The construct of class and race can have a considerable impact on the life choices of individuals. In “The Wife of his Youth,” Charles Chesnutt describes the story of Mr. Ryder, a prosperous African American with light skin which meets his wife, Liza Jane, after a long period of being apart. Even though Mr. Ryder wishes to marry Molly Dixon, who can solidify his social position. However, after consulting with the members of the Blue Veins society, he decides to return to Liza Jane. The present paper aims at demonstrating how racial and class motives influence the relationship between the protagonist of the story and the wife of his youth.
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The couple met and separated due to slavery, as Sam escaped from his owner trying to avoid being sold. Sam was a free-born; however, his parents died, and he was brought to Liza’s master. After meeting and marrying, Sam escapes from his master, trying to avoid being sold. The couple could not reunite because the Civil war broke out, and “folks wuz scattered” (Chesnutt 103). In short, all the three critical events in the life of Sam and Liza before the events described in the story are influenced by racism and social inequality. Without the construct of class and race, the relationship would not have started or ended so abruptly.
Mr. Ryder’s initial decision to conceal his identity as Sam was motivated by trying to retain his social status. Sam Taylor has worked his way up from the position of a messenger in a railroad company to become one of the most respected members of the African American elite. Before meeting Liza, the protagonist wanted to organize a ball, which “would serve by its exclusiveness to counteract leveling tendencies, and his marriage with Mrs. Dixon would help to further the upward process of absorption” (Chesnutt 101).
In other words, he values being a part of an upper social class and is afraid of losing the respect of Blue Veins society, which is a symbol of aristocracy. Therefore, Mr. Ryder asks other members of the privileged how he should act in the situation. When it is confirmed that other members of the society believe that Mr. Ryder should return to Liza, he makes the decision. Such a decision-making pattern demonstrates that he does not value his feelings and duty before his wife, as much as he respects the opinions of the aristocracy. In summary, the couple reunited because Sam wanted to retain his social status by adhering to the decision of the Blue Veins society.
The Blue Veins society favored Sam’s returning to his wife for racial reasons. According to Bryant, the wedding between Liza and Mr. Ryder and Liza Jane is a metaphor for African Americans being faithful to their racial and cultural identity (61). Instead of making a choice between two women, Sam decides what values are more important to him: those of white people, which are material success and prosperity, or those of African Americans, freedom and faithfulness. In other words, the idea of race influences the decision to return to Liza and therefore affects the couple’s relationship.
In conclusion, the discussion presented above demonstrates that the construct of race and class have a considerable impact on the relationship between Liza and Mr. Ryder. First, social stratification and slavery are the reasons the couple met and parted. Second, Sam returns to Liza because the aristocracy believes it is right. Finally, the Blue Veins society makes the decision based on racial values.
Bryant, Earle. “Scriptural Allusion and Metaphorical Marriage in Charles Chesnutt’s ‘The Wife of His Youth’.” American Literary Realism, vol. 33, no. 1, pp. 57-64.
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Chesnutt, Charles. “The Wife of His Youth.” ENG 215/WINTER PACKET: Modern Literary Masterpieces.