Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On "The Wife of His Youth and Other Stories of the Color Line" by Charles W. Chesnutt ****

Wanting to read something outside the highly formulaic Conjure Woman tales, I opted to read yet another book of Chesnutt's short fiction to see if his other stories were as entertaining, and indeed they are. These nine stories focus mostly on people of mixed ancestry in the Reconstruction South. In many, light skinned African Americans struggle to better themselves most often by trying to mimic the white power brokers of society and by trying to deny the less savory (i.e., black) parts of their own selves. This doesn't come in for kind treatment by Chesnutt, as often these people, through their imported prejudice, end up denying real opportunities to themselves, as happens in "A Matter of Principle."

But the consequences of not following such a code also don't lend themselves to being treated particularly well either. Darker skinned people, the subject of the last few stories in the collection, find themselves shut out of funerals for people they love or herded off to jail for things they didn't steal. In each case, the prejudice that rests within post-Civil War society brings down the newly freed people and their descendants.

In college, I tended not to care as much for African American fiction because of its heavy political content. As I've gotten older, however, stories of social injustice such as these have appealed more. Call it perspective, perhaps, hearing what others say about people of given cultures or races and knowing also what is gendered in my own heart as a human being who has grown up amid such racism and how that affects my own thinking whether I wish it to or not. Stories such as Chesnutt's provide historical context for issues that linger to our present day, even if the prejudice is no longer as overt. You can download the collection here.

1 comment:

John said...

Just finished the book And Thereby Hangs a Tale and felt like sharing what I thought. Many of these make you laugh and some bring tears. With due respect, some stories are downright predictable and is definitely not the best work of Jeffrey Archer.