Embracing The Past: A Difficult Ideal In African American Heritage

1189 words - 5 pages

During the struggle to rise to a higher social class, many African Americans have chosen to embrace white ideals while rejecting their heritage and anything that associates one with their “blackness” This type of rejection to one’s culture has been shown many times in African American literature. In “The Wife of His Youth,” by Charles Chesnutt, and Invisible Man, by Ralph Ellison, the authors use their writing to show this disconnection; both Chesnutt and Ellison are able to capture the struggle and help their characters to overcome it by embracing their pasts, which can be a very difficult ideal in African American heritage.
In “The Wife of His Youth,” the main character, Mr. Ryder, is a man that has left slavery behind and has been able to make an entire new life based in prestige, becoming the leader of the leader of the affluent Blue Vein Society, and being known throughout the town as an influential, educated person. The only reason he has been able to build himself up to this high of stature is by disengaging from his roots as a slave. However, his entire new life becomes challenged when an old slave woman, not well educated or possessing high stature comes to visit him. She was described as “a little woman… very black -- so black that her toothless gums, revealed when she opened her mouth to speak, were not red, but blue” (Chesnutt 627). This woman came to ask Mr. Ryder’s help in finding her long lost husband, Sam Taylor, whom she had been searching for ever since being released from slavery.
After being told this woman’s story and the husband’s name, Mr. Ryder tries to deter the woman from her search. He states scenarios such as,”’ "Do you really expect to find your husband? He may be dead long ago’” and “’He may have married another woman. Your slave marriage would not have prevented him, for you never lived with him after the war, and without that your marriage doesn't count,’” (Chesnutt 629) to which the woman stood steadfast in her stance than her husband would never do these things. The turning point in the story, where the reader might begin to suspect other motives from Mr. Ryder’s actions, was when he said "’Perhaps he's outgrown you, and climbed up in the world where he wouldn't care to have you find him’" (Chesnutt 926). This is truly the struggle for not only Mr. Ryder as the protagonist, but also for many other members of the African American community. As Mr. Ryder has built himself up so high, he would not want to embrace his slavery roots, which includes his slave wife.
During the Blue Vein Society event, which he was going to host in order to propose to a young, very prominent lighter colored woman, Mr. Ryder gives a speech hypothetically laying out the woman’s story from her husband’s point of view. He talks about the rags to riches story of an escaped slave man who “made his way to the North… where he had larger opportunities.” This man continued to grown up “to be as different from the ignorant boy who ran away...

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