The Souls of Black Folk

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The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. DuBois

W. E. B. Du Bois' The Souls of Black Folk is a work in African American literature and an American classic. In this work Du Bois proposes that "The problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line." His concepts of life behind the veil of race and the resulting "double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others," have become touchstones for thinking about race in America. In addition to these enduring concepts, this work offers an assessment of the progress of mankind, the obstacles to that progress, and the possibilities for future progress as the nation entered the twentieth century. In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois illustrates the very poignant image of a color line that separates the two races in his society. He introduces the term double consciousness to explain how African-Americans view themselves, not as individuals but as a collective group; a perception made through the eyes of the society that they lived in. This perception produces what Du Bois calls a “twoness” of American Negroes. It is this sense of “always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the type of world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.” (Du Bois 3). The notion of double consciousness speaks not only to African Americans but to humanity as a whole. Du Bois’ theory of double consciousness is also complicated in this novel because he does not leave room for those individuals who do not fit his strict black and white template. There is no gray area. Every individual can identify himself as part of one group on opposite sides of the veil. Can a human being exist in society as an individual or is one’s identity only defined by the group that they associate themselves with? Double consciousness refers to the idea that we see ourselves through the eyes of others. Du Bois uses this term to describe the felt confusion that exists between social...
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