Last Updated September 5, 2023.
Mr. Ryder is first introduced as a man who is planning to give a ball for his social group.
Mr. Ryder might aptly be called the dean of the Blue Veins. The original Blue Veins were a little society of colored persons organized in a certain Northern city shortly after the war. Its purpose was to establish and maintain correct social standards among a people whose social condition presented almost unlimited room for improvement.
Mr. Ryder hopes to marry a widow, Mrs. Molly Dixon, who is even better educated and lighter skinned than he, believing that their union will not only connect him with a woman he loves but will also permit him to continue in his desire to become accepted by white society. This is, in fact, the goal of the "Blue Vein Society": to mobilize upward, in their view, finding acceptance by whites because it would be a "backward step" to maintain a place only with darker-skinned people. He plans to propose to Mrs. Dixon at this ball, which he will throw in her honor. Mr. Ryder says,
"I have no race prejudice, [...] 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."
Mr. Ryder feels strongly about advancing himself and people like him, for the betterment of the entire community. He believes that he has an obligation and duty to do his "best" for himself and for any posterity that share the particular burden of belonging to neither the white race nor the black. However, when faced with a moral dilemma -- to acknowledge the wife of his youth, a woman who will not serve him in this capacity or to refuse her -- he is pleased that his friends agree with his choice (though they did not realize it at the time). He presents them with an apparently hypothetical situation in which he presents his own story as a strangers, and they say to him,
"Yes [...] he should have acknowledged her."
At this moment, he reveals Liza Jane, his wife from long ago, when they were both slaves, saying,
"this is the woman, and I am the man, whose story I have told you. Permit me to introduce to you the wife of my youth."
His integrity wins out over his personal ambition. His sense of duty to Liza Jane, with her undying loyalty and fidelity to him, trumps his desire for acceptance.