A Feminist Portrayal of Women

There are many myths about women such as, “women are kinder and gentler than men”, “women have better manners”, and “women are more mature than men”, but the theory of feminism states that males and females are equal both socially and politically. After the civil war, the belief of colorism created a rather unequal portrayal of men and women. Colorism was the belief of the mixing of races between white and black and was commonly seen between white slave holders and black slave women. The many different shades of white and black that were established made it hard to tell who was truly pure of one color, and this created a disparity among both men and women. Women were already seen as inferior to men, and this sudden mixing of races created an even greater biased view of the female race. Despite this inequality, Charles W. Chesnutt’s, The Wife of His Youth, is a feminist narrative because two women characters are portrayed as equal to men through their appearances, through their manners, and through the opinion of the Blue Vein Society.

In The Wife of His Youth, there are two women whose appearances are described from the opinion of Mr. Ryder, a person with a generally higher social status, also a man. The first woman, Mrs. Molly Dixon, was an apparent love interest to Mr. Ryder and described in a way that she appeared seemingly superior to him. Although Mr. Ryder was older than Mrs. Dixon, he thought, “She was whiterâÂ?¦and better educated,” (1640). Even though Mr. Ryder was, “old enough to have been her father,” (1640), she was thought of as upholding a higher social status, alike himself, because of the fact that she was educated and had a whiter skin tone than he. She is portrayed positively as a woman and was eagerly and equally welcomed into the Blue Vein Society, a group of civilized people who were “generally more white than black”. The name, Blue Vein Society, came from a jealous person with a darker skin tone who suggested that no member was eligible unless their skin was white and translucent enough that their ‘blue veins’ were apparent. Later on in the story another woman, Liza Jane, came across Mr. Ryder in search of her lost husband. Her skin color was described as, “she was very black, -so black that her toothless gums revealed when she opened her mouth to speak, were not red, but blue,” (1642). When referring to the color of her gums, the color blue appears again, but this time not talking about the myth of the Blue Vein Society eligibility. The same color, blue, is used to describe translucent white skin with obvious blue veins of well civilized people with a high social status, but also of the other end of the scale, a woman with black skin and black blood, whose gums appear to be blue because her skin is so dark. This illustrates that this is a feminist narrative because one color that is not white, not black, but blue, is used in an equal fashion when referring to both classes of women. Mr. Ryder also describes her appearance as, “Her face was crossed and recrossed with a hundred wrinkles, and around the edges of her bonnet could be seen protruding here and there a tuft of short gray wool,” (1642). The man dehumanizes Liza by comparing her hair to the fur on a sheep, yet after hearing her story of her search for her lost husband, asks for her address and tells her, “I will give the matter some attention, and if I find out anything I will let you know,” (1644). This is a feminist action because not only is she of a much darker skin tone, she is a woman, yet he still plans on looking into the situation. Not only do the appearances of these women classify them, but other personality traits do as well.

Along with the color of their skin, the women are also portrayed through their mannerisms. Mrs. Dixon, the fair skinned woman, was seen as a wonderful addition to society with, “her refined manners and the vivacity of her wit,” (1640). All these qualities made her attractive and she is portrayed equally in their society as a respected woman due to her civility. Not only was she accepted as a politically equal member of the Blue Vein Society, but her well rounded behavior caused her to, “take a leading part in the activities,” (1640). While Mrs. Dixon lures Mr. Ryder in with her proper etiquette, Liza Jane manipulates Mr. Ryder through her storytelling. Liza Jane tells Mr. Ryder a romantic story of how she and her husband were separated after the war and how she has been searching for him for twenty-five years. Her detailed and devoted story rekindled a feeling inside Mr. Ryder and he became aware of a sense of control she had over him through her storytelling. Liza was a woman, and was not involved with the Blue Vein Society, yet after the story, Mr. Ryder asked to see a picture of the man with the excuse that, “It might help me to remember whether I have seen the original,” (1644) and was even compelled to take Liza’s address and explore the situation. Mr. Ryder then went to his bedroom and, “stood for a long time before the mirror of his dressing-case, gazing thoughtfully at the reflection of his own face,” (1644) questioning the importance of his own appearance. Liza Jane was portrayed as a woman who was respected for her devout and honest manners by this man, Mr. Ryder.

While the opinion of Mr. Ryder changed, it was still important to him to consult his close companions of the Blue Vein Society. Mr. Ryder had intended to ask for Mrs. Dixon’s hand in marriage, but after hearing the story of old Liza Jane, he had created a new proposal. This proposal was to the Blue Vein Society. He started off with a rather feminist opinionated speech about how, “woman is the gift of Heaven to manâÂ?¦the quality that most distinguishes woman is her fidelity and devotion to those she loves,” (1645). He then told the story to his attentive listeners and, “had awakened a responsive thrill in many hearts,” (1645). He goes on to explain that such a huge amount of, “devotion and confidence are rare even among women,” (1645) relating to the myth that “women are kinder and gentler than men” and saying how a twenty-five year search for a lost husband is rare to any woman no matter how big her heart is. He asks the society if they think the man should acknowledge his wife. The first person to solely speak out is a woman, Mrs. Dixon: “He should have acknowledged her,” (1647). Being well respected by other members of the society, all the other members agree with her. Even the richest, the whitest, and the highest class members of the Blue Vein Society tell Mr. Ryder that the respectful way to treat his wife would be to recognize her no matter her background, or skin color. Mr. Ryder replies, “It is the answer I expected, for I knew your hearts,” (1647) implying that he knew the members would respond with a sense of equality between men and women.

In Charles W. Chesnutt’s, The Wife of His Youth, women are portrayed as equals to men based on their image, persona, and by the acceptance of a very black woman as Mr. Ryder’s wife and as an equal person in general by the Blue Vein Society, creating a feminist narrative. Rather than stating the differences between men and women, this narrative classifies the two women as a part of a society, containing both men and women, all with equal responsibilities. Although during the time period all women were seen as inferior to men, this narrative portrays the two women positively, accepting them as important people in society, in a feminist way.

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