The Wife of His Youth

Introduction

"The Wife of His Youth" is a short story by American author Charles W. Chesnutt, first published in July 1898. It later served as the title story of the collection The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color-Line. That book was first published in 1899, the same year Chesnutt published his short story collection The Conjure Woman.

"The Wife of His Youth" features an upwardly mobile, light-skinned mulatto man, a respected member of the Blue Veins Society in a Midwestern city. He is preparing to marry another light-skinned mulatto woman when a much darker woman comes to him seeking her husband, whom she has not seen in 25 years. The story, which was met positively upon its publication, has become Chesnutt's most anthologized work.

The story has been read as an analysis of race relations, not between black and white but within the black community, exploring its own color and class prejudices. The main character dreams of becoming white but ultimately seems to accept being black and the full history of African Americans in the United States. The ending of the story, however, has been called ambiguous and leaves several questions unanswered.


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