There are different texts that share the predicaments of African Americans at the turn of
the century. Three authors: Charles Chesnutt, Alice Dunbar Nelson, and James Weldon Johnson
have written about different positions on the identities of African Americans by using a variety
of strategies. This paper focusses on the three authors, their strategies for understanding the
identities of the identities, and their positions on how the African Americans ought to consider
their race and history.
Charles Chesnutt, “The Wife of his Youth”
This is one of the most celebrated stories by Charles Chesnutt. It deals with the issues of
social and racial identity in the post-reconstruction and reconstruction era. Charles Chesnutt has
worked hard in ensuring that the reader is able to understand and identify the conflicting
identities of the African American society. The story is about a light skinned African American
whose self-identifying as an African American made him to be in a vulnerable position. This
guided him in his work in the late 20th century especially after the civil rights movement. His
description of the African American society has been done in a sarcastic manner to captivate the
reader (Render, 1974). He notes, “The society consisted of individuals who were, generally
speaking, more white than black.”
The wife of his youth focusses on the consciousness of the African American community
using an approach that was unprecedented at the time. The main character of the story is Mr.
Ryder who is a bachelor in an African American society. His character and the society which he
lives in are brought out as bastions of the black people high culture which means an essentially
white culture. The predicament in this story is for Mr. Ryder whose affections have driven him to
wed Mrs. Molly Dixon stem from the upward process of absorption. However, fate precedes
when Liza Jane visits Mr. Ryder who is a former slave with the aim of finding her husband.
There exists a new identity between Mr. Ryder and Liza Jane which results in a predicament
where Mr. Ryder is faced with a dilemma on whether to claim her and introduce her as the wife
of his youth (Render, 1974). The society supports this idea.
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