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Conference Proceeding

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Since Charles Chesnutt was on both the color and caste lines, his linguistic precision reflects a variety of cultural aspects. In “The wife of his Youth,” one can explore the caste differences between Mr. Ryder and Liza Jane through Chesnutt‟s choice of diction. The opening of the story postpones the plot to introduce and characterize Mr. Ryder in the context of the Blue Veins Society. Once established as a Blue Vein, Mr. Ryder necessarily exhibits a more varied and more studied diction than Liza Jane. This disparity becomes a condemnation of the seeking after upward mobility at the cost of relationships and core values. Since both characters tell the same story, Chesnutt provides a close comparison of their dictions and presents not only Liza Jane‟s story as more truthful but uses her qualities to revalue the Blue Vein Society. Diction plays a central role in the portrayal of different social castes. Cynthia Lehman examines several of Chesnutt‟s stories to analyze the social and political dimensions. She explains, “On the subject of language, as has been stated before, Charles Chestnutt‟s [sic] vocabulary was reflective of an attitude of White Americans that he wished to have portrayed in the novel to exhibit social realism,” (1996, p. 282). This attitude becomes apparent in most of Chesnutt‟s stories through the differences between Uncle Julius and the narrator. Nevertheless, in the case of “The Wife of his Youth,” Chesnutt juxtaposes the dictions of two central characters, Mr. Ryder and Liza Jane. Most simply, diction or lexical choice pertains to word choice including vocabulary and syntax (Harmon, 2009, p. 161). Readers understand aspects of Ryder‟s character through his word choice. On the other hand, Liza Jane‟s diction remains relatively undeveloped due to social restrictions based on her skin tone and temporal restrictions based on her years spent in a dedicated search for her husband.


Presented at Graduate English Association New Voices Conference 2008, pp. 1-5.