Conflict in "The Wife of His Youth
According to Ann Charters in The Short Story and its Writer, "conflict is the opposition presented to the main Character of a narrative by another character, by events or situations, by fate, or by some aspect of the protagonist's own personality or nature. The conflict is introduced by means of a complication that sets in motion the rising action, usually toward a climax and eventual resolution" (Charters 1782).
In the story by Charles W. Chesnutt, "The Wife of His Youth, there are many different types of conflict. There is internal conflict amongst the characters, internal conflict, and conflict with society. The conflicts that Chesnutt raises in this story are not easy to relate to for everyone, but can easily bring to mind similar problems people face. The struggles that the main character faces are something people face on a daily basis.
The Wife of His Youth'' is a story about a mulatto man named Mr. Ryder. He is very successful and a member of a high society called the Blue Veins. The society is made up of blacks that were very light skinned and of high social status.
Ryder was a well respected member of the group who had a love for great literature. "His features were of a refined type, his hair was almost straight; he was always neatly dressed; his manners were irreproachable, and his morals above suspicion (Chesnutt 313)." He had worked himself up from messenger at a railroad company to being head of the distribution of office supplies for the company. He was everything that the society embodied as successful. He was the leader of the Blue Vein society and carried the most conservative views of the members.
The very first conflict in the story is between the Blue Vein society and the rest of the black population. The society picks its members on a very strict set of standards. According to the members however, prospective members were judged only on their character and culture. Other blacks who were not in the group talked about how the only members were blacks who were light enough to see their blue veins. Many who were not members thought that the society just succeeded in holding back blacks further. It was just like the prejudice that the whites already showed blacks. If light skinned blacks distanced themselves from darker blacks they felt that they would somehow get farther in life. This may have been true but the conflict is still there. A whole group making themselves separate and better than another group is a large part of what is wrong with the world today. I think Chesnutt is pointing out the conflict that most blacks felt at this time, especially mulattoes. It wasn't long after the Civil war and it was hard to get ahead as a black person. In the story, people were angry about the society unless they were invited in, when their whole tune changed.
When such critics had succeeded in getting on the inside, they had been heard
to maintain with zeal and earnestness that the society was a
pillar of cloud by
day and of fire by night, to guide their people through the social wilderness
(Chesnutt 312)." The members realized that they were separating themselves from other blacks based on color, but also saw that it was a way to get ahead. The group helped to advance the members in society and to the members' discrimination a price that was worth paying.
Later in the story an old Black woman with very dark skin comes to visit him whose name is Liza Jane. She tells him that she is looking for her husband that she lost touch with right before the war. She is a former slave and exactly the type of person that Ryder and the Blue Veins stay away from. Instead of immediately turning her away he asks questions and asks to see the picture of the man she is looking for. Eventually the reader figures out that he is the man she is looking for. This to me is one of the internal conflicts going on between Ryder and...
Cited: Charters, Ann. The Short Story and its Writer. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin 's,
Chesnutt, Charles W. "The Wife of His Youth." The Short Story and its Writer. Ed. Ann Charters. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin 's, 2003. 312-20.
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