Race and Identity in America

Ryder on Race Share

Work Time

In the story, much is made about the color of one’s skin. For Mr. Ryder, and the people of his social network and race, the lines that are drawn between the races andwithin the races seem to be of utmost importance.

Chesnutt describes Mr. Ryder’s views on race in the first part of the story. Reread the following passage.

"I have no race prejudice," he would say, "but we people of mixed blood are ground between the upper and the nether millstone. Our fate lies between absorption by the white race and extinction in the black. The one doesn't want us yet, but may take us in time. The other would welcome us, but it would be for us a backward step. 'With malice towards none, with charity for all,' we must do the best we can for ourselves and those who are to follow us. Self-preservation is the first law of nature."

With your partner, discuss the passage. Consider the following questions.

  • How does Ryder view himself in relation to whites?
  • How does he view himself in relation to darker-skinned African Americans?
  • What does Ryder mean by the phrase “absorption by the white race and extinction in the black”?
  • How does his claim that “self-preservation is the first law of nature” connect to later events in the story?