Charles W. Chestnutt. “The Wife of His Youth”. Background and Discussion Questions. Discussion: . How critical or satirical of blacks is Chesnutt in his portrayal of them? Does he treat them with sympathy, even when they behave foolishly?
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Charles W. Chestnutt “The Wife of His Youth” Background and Discussion Questions
Discussion: • How critical or satirical of blacks is Chesnutt in his portrayal of them? • Does he treat them with sympathy, even when they behave foolishly? • Is Chesnutt's satire biting and distant or self-involving and tolerant?
There's rarely one source of authority in a Chesnutt story. • Different points of view compete for authority. • Identify the different points of view and play them against each other.
Chesnutt's Social Purposes • How could stories about slavery have any bearing on the situation of blacks and on race relations at the turn of the century--when Chesnutt wrote--and today?
Major Themes, Historical Perspectives, and Personal Issues • Major themes include the following: Chesnutt's attitude toward the Old South; the myth of the plantation and the happy darkey, the mixed-blood (monster or natural and even an evolutionary improvement); and miscegenation* as a natural process, not something to be shocked by. (*sexual relations between people of different races, especially of different skin colors, leading to the birth of children)
Significant Form, Style, or Artistic Conventions • Chesnutt wrote during the era of literary realism. • What is his relationship to realism, its standards, its themes, its ideas about appropriateness of subject matter and tone?
Original Audience • Chesnutt wrote for genteel magazine readers much less critical and aware of their racism than we. • How does he both appeal to and gently undermine that audience's assumptions?
Discussion questions • What predicaments of post-emancipation life are presented in the story?
Discussion questions • What is the unique predicament of those of "mixed blood"?
Discussion questions • What stratifications* have evolved in African American society by the 1890s, as portrayed in this story? • (*to stratify means to form castes, classes, or other groups based on status, or be formed into such groups)
Discussion questions • How do the Blue Veins construct the past in order to accept former slaves into their ranks? • What is the "shadow hanging over them"?
Discussion questions • Characterize the identities that Mr. Ryder and 'Liza Jane have created for themselves. What is gained and lost in their choices?
Discussion questions • Is Mr. Ryder free of "race prejudice"?
Discussion questions • Judge Mr. Ryder's response to his ethical dilemma. Does he make his decision before the ball or after presenting his dilemma to the Blue Veins? What will he do after the ball, in your opinion?
Discussion questions • Relate Mr. Ryder's belief that "Self-preservation is the first law of nature" to the dilemma and outcome of this story. Does Chesnutt sympathize with his character, Mr. Ryder?
Discussion questions • Why does Chesnutt omit white society's view of the Blue Veins from this story?
Comparisons, Contrasts, Connections • Chesnutt wrote to counter the stories of Thomas Nelson Page and Joel Chandler Harris. Chesnutt might also be compared to Paul Laurence Dunbar and Frederick Douglass as depicters of blacks on the plantation before the Civil War.