The Different Conceptions of the Veil in the Souls of Black Folk

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The Different Conceptions of the Veil in The Souls of Black Folk

"For now we see through a glass, darkly"

-Isiah 25:7

W.E.B. Du Bois's Souls of Black Folk, a collection of autobiographical and historical essays contains many themes. There is the theme of souls and their attainment of consciousness, the theme of double consciousness and the duality and bifurcation of black life and culture; but one of the most striking themes is that of "the veil." The veil provides a link between the 14 seemingly unconnected essays that make up The Souls of Black Folk. Mentioned at least once in most of the 14 essays it means that, "the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second sight in this American world, -a world with yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others."Footnote1 The veil is a metaphor for the separation and invisibility of black life and existence in America and is a reoccurring theme in books abo ut black life in America.

Du Bois's veil metaphor, "In those somber forests of his striving his own soul rose before him, and he saw himself, -darkly as though through a veil"Footnote2, is a allusion to Saint Paul's line in Isiah 25:7, "For now we see through a glass, darkly."Footnote3 Saint Paul's use of the veil in Isiah and later in Second Corinthians is similar to Du Bois's use of the metaphor of the veil. Both writers claim that as long as one is wrapped in the veil their attempts to gain self-consciousness will fail because they will always see the image of themselves reflect back to them by others. Du Bois applies this by claiming that as long as on is behind the veil the, "world which yields him no self-consciousness but who only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world."Footnote4 Saint Paul in Second Corinthians says the way to self consciousness and an understanding lies in, "the veil being taken away, Now the lord is the spirit and where the spirit of the lord is there is liberty." Du Bois does not claim that transcending the veil will lead to a better understanding of the lord but like Saint Paul he finds that only through transcending "the veil" can people achieve liberty and gain self-consciousness. The veil metaphor in Souls of Black Folk is symbolic of the invisibility of blacks in America. Du Bois says that Blacks in America are a forgotten people, "after the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil."Footnote5 The invisibility of Black existence in America is one of the reasons why Du Bois writes Souls of Black Folk in order to elucidate the "invisible" history and strivings of Black Americans, "I have sought here to sketch, in vague, uncertain outline, the spiritual world in which ten thousand Americans live and strive."Footnote6 Du Bois in each of the following chapters tries to manifest the strivings of Black existence from that of the reconstruction period to the black spirituals and the stories of rural black children that he tried to educate. Du Bois in Souls of Black Folk is grappling with trying to establish some sense of history and memory for Black Americans, Du Bois struggles in the pages of the book to prevent Black Americans from becoming a Seventh Son invisible to the rest of the world, hidden behind a veil of prejudice, "Hear my Cry, O God the reader vouch safe that this my book fall not still born into the world-wilderness. Let there spring, Gentle one, from its leaves vigor of thought and thoughtful deed to reap the harvest wonderful."Footnote7 The invisibility of Black existence is a recurring theme in other books about Black history. In Raboteau's book slave religion is called, "the invisible institution of the antebellum South."Footnote8...
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