“The Wife of His Youth” was Charles W. Chesnutt’s manifesto from the wilderness proclaiming the death of the plantation myth of the negro as defined and constructed by predominantly-white manufactured dialect tale which had been the genre bringing him success. Chesnutt had found success with his dialect tales mainly through the publication of three of them in the widely-read Atlantic Monthly between 1887 and 1889. “The Wife of His Youth” would be the fourth story of his that the magazine published and the eight year gap since his last story proved he was now a very different writer.
“The Wife of His Youth” was his first Atlantic Monthly story that was not a dialect tale, that did not feature his popular character Uncle Julius as well as his first story about the North. Such was the extent to which this story represented a change in direction for the author that he also used the title for his second collection published in 1899.
The narrative of a man with a distinct superiority complex who comes to a crossroads in life in the struggle to define experience in Ohio between dark-skinned blacks and light-skinned middle-class blacks known as the Blue Vein Society takes on themes not necessarily associated by white America whose knowledge of black America was gleaned primarily through its unrealistic portrayal in books by plantation myth progenitors like Joel Chandler Harris. “The Wife of His Youth” would, indeed, expose many Atlantic Monthly readers for the first to the existence of class snobbery and racial segregation within the black community.