Charles W. Chesnutt's Short Stories

Words: 1649
Pages: 7

Like many artist, Charles W. Chesnutt has certain reoccurring elements that distinguish his works. This can be seen in comparison of two of his works: “The Wife of His Youth” and “Her Virginia Mammy.” There are several reoccurring themes and plots, such as race and social class, in both of these wonderful stories, but there are also some differing elements like characters and setting. While both of these short stories are similar in some aspects and different in others, they both exhibit qualities of great short stories.
“Her Virginia Mammy” is a heart touching story about Clara, a seemingly white dance teacher, who was recently asked by John, a doctor, to get married. Clara likes John, but she recently found out she was adopted and is concerned
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Both stories share similar themes like social class, race and love. One example of a consistent characteristic in both stories is the theme of social class. It is evident in the concerns of Clara’s real family’s status and her hesitancy to marry because of status. Clare, in reference to status, says “‘But suppose you should marry me, and when you become famous and rich, and patients flock to your office, and fashionable people to your home, and everyone wants to know who you are and whence you came[…]If you should refrain, in order to forestall embarrassing inquiries about my ancestry, I should have deprived you of something you are entitled to, something which has a real social value.” Similarly, in “The Wife of His Youth” Mr. Ryder was concerned of the events and the extravagance would be enough for high standards of the society he was a part of. This can be seen in the short story when Mr. Ryder, “[…] this ball should mark and epoch in the social history of Grovelland […] His ball must be worthy of the lady in whose honor it was to be given, and must, by the quality of its guests, set an example[…].” Another congruent theme seen in both stories is the separation of race within race: light skins and dark skins. This is evident in in the main characters of each story who were both light skinned and did not share the same fate as the darker. Pertaining to the distinction between lights and darks, Chesnutt makes it evident in his descriptions of the surrounding population of the dance class and the society club, such as the high profile jobs light skins held. For example, in “The Wife of His Youth” Chesnutt writes as narrator expressing Mr. Ryder’s common sayings, “[...] he would say, ‘We people of mixed blood […]our fate lies between absorption by the white and the extinction of the black. […] we must do the best we can for ourselves and those who are to follow us.’” Similarly Chesnutt