The story opens with the return of John Warwick to the town in North Carolina where he was formerly known as mulatto. Having lived in South Carolina for some years, where the laws governing who is and is not white are less stringent, John is no longer the same person he was when he left his mother and sister behind in their small community. Now an upstanding, white attorney, he’s returned to Patesville to convince his mother to allow his sister, Rena, to return to Clarence, South Carolina with him, where she might also pass and ascend to a higher racial and social class.
|Charles W. Chestnutt|
It’s been said that Chestnutt based The House on family members. Given his appearance, he would have been a candidate to pass, but chose to identify as black. He doesn't fault though who choose to pass. However, it would seem that the message he sends with this story is that while passing for white can indeed move you higher up on the ladder of success, it comes with a price and ultimately it’s up to an individual to determine how much he or she is willing to pay.