Her Virginia Mammy

Study Guide: “Her Virginia Mammy”

Remember, for our purposes satire is defined as a technique employed by writers to expose and criticize foolishness and corruption. Chesnutt uses satire as social criticism to targets injustice and disparity in institutions of power, including government, businesses, and even individuals.:

The three overarching types of satire are:

  1. Menippean satire criticizes mental attitudes and ridicules character types, such as single- minded people, such as bigots, misers, and braggarts.
  2. Horatian satire is marked by joviality and hilarity although moralizing
  3. Juvenalian is austere, harsh, and often punitive in tone


  • Which forms of satire are used in this story? Give examples using concrete examples from the text.
  • What is the moral of the story?
  • Are there examples in the story that you feel deserve a heavier or lighter hand to instill the point?
  • Does this story use irony or sarcasm? Give examples using concrete examples from the text.
  • Is this a gentle short story, ostensibly about a girl trying to find her name and family or is it a lesson in the dark penalties of ‘passing’?
  • Why did Mrs. Harper disguise her identity as Clara’s mother? What was at stake?
  • What clues are there that Mrs. Harper is the mother of Clara?
  • What indications do we have on John’s attitude toward African Americans?
  • Why does Clara refer to John as “poor,” although he says that “some honored men have borne [his name]”?
  • Clara is led to believe that her identity outranks John’s. How does this move the story forward?  What does this mean for Clara and her mother?  Can it be understood that Clara has found her identity?
  • Is identity about a mindset as much as it is about biology?
  • What was the benefit to Mrs. Harper for concealing the true identity? Considering what Mrs. Harper had endured being sold as a slave, does this justify her suppression of the facts?


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Charles Chesnutt in the Classroom by Adrienne Johnson Gosselin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.