In Charles Waddell Chestnutt’s story, gender, race, and class are tightly intertwined. The protagonist, Mr. Ryder, is a biracial man. He is initially portrayed as a social climber who bases his social worth on others considering him light-skinned. He plans to marry a woman who is lighter than he is: in this way, he would be likely to father even lighter-skinned children—who might later pass as white. Although men retain leadership roles in patriarchal society, they are still dependent on their wives and children for social improvement.
These sorts of aspirations are not his alone. He is involved with a society of elites whose membership is based on their mixed-race status. They celebrate the white side of their lineage, as evident in the “blue veins” of the society’s title, which indicate the pallor of their skin.
As the story develops, the reader learns that he is not merely invested in distancing himself from his African-American heritage, but he is also a hypocrite, a liar, and would soon have become a bigamist. Ryder is already married, and his wife is a dark-skinned black woman. In all these respects, Chestnutt’s portrayal of this male character emphasizes his negative features. At the end, however, Ryder does admit that the formerly enslaved woman is his wife, which certainly ends his engagement and his aspirations for social advancement in racial terms.