Charles Chesnutt was perhaps the most popular African American writer at the turn of the 20th century. His paternal grandfather was a white slave owner, and his maternal grandfather was likely white as well. Chesnutt could easily have "passed" for white but never chose to do so. He wrote at a very complex time. Jim Crow laws kept blacks in the South relatively powerless and there was a great deal of distance and competition between African Americans themselves.
His literature critiques the effects of Jim Crow laws and practices on people of all races. Much of his writing deals with passing, racial identity, and social place. "The Wife of His Youth," a short story, in particular reveals the difficulties faced by racially blended individuals and their prejudices against more darkly shaded African Americans.