The Souls of Black Folk
The Transgression of Realism from Washington’s Up from Slavery to Du Bois’ the Souls of Black Folk
The act of taking a situation as it is and having the ability to deal with it accordingly, often known as the act of realism, happens to be an idea that many people struggle to master. However, two men named William Du Bois and Booker T. Washington, refused to fall into that category of the population. Both men became known for refusing to conform to the beliefs of society and accept the suppression of black rights. In both, The Souls of Black Folk by William Du Bois, and Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington, the men discuss one of the most prominent problems of the twentieth century, the division of color. Both men dedicated their life’s work to accomplish what they thought would be small changes in society, that in turn ended up changing the way the whole world viewed the lines of division. That being said, although both men had differing stances about how to endorse equal rights for African Americans, they both managed to create a literary platform of their founding arguments in a way which supported and converged the ideals of realism.
Immediately following the civil war, blacks began facing acts of suffering and discrimination. The Souls of Black Folk by William Du Bois, is a piece that has forever gone down in history for being one of the most strongly influential pieces in not only American literature but America in general. Du Bois highlighted the issues of the color line, while invoking change during a time in the twentieth century when many African Americans had limited voice. Therefore, he declared that people of color should no longer accept the standing values for which they were being held to at the time. Thus, encouraging many Americans to use their voice to influence change in voting rights, civil equality, and the right to higher education. Now, judging by the cover of, Up From Slavery by Booker T. Washington, many are lead to believe there is in fact no correlation in relation to Du Bois’ piece, The Souls of Black Folk, seeing as they have been historically known for disagreeing on many things. However, it in fact follows rather closely to Booker T. Washington’s story of, Up From Slavery, an autobiography in which Washington details his life in a series of events ranging from his upbringing as a slave, to the peak in his career as a social activist. Upon reading and analyzing the two stories, you begin to see that although they differ in many aspects, they compare in the sense that they resonate well with the audience due to the presentation of realism.
This idea of realism, an idea in which these two pieces so strongly exemplify, was a notion to actualize the writings of the 19th century, in opposition to the romanticism era that had been so prominent pre-civil war. A realist narrator concerns himself with the “here” and “now” aspects of writing, thus explaining why both of these pieces were known to not only be so relatable but also invoke so much headway with the people. Washington became one of the first men to illustrate a strongly intended realism piece with his autobiography, Up From Slavery. His story brought realism to life like many had never seen before, especially from the works of a black, has been slave, turned educated activist. He served the public with the naked truth behind his story from slavery to success and managed to support his argument along the way. He believed that if blacks gained an economic foothold, and proved themselves useful to whites, then civil rights and social equality would eventually be given along the way. (quote needed)
In opposition to the work of Washington, with the publication of Du Bois’, The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois surfaced as the new-found activist for the African American community, through which many began to depend on his leadership to make headway in the rights of the people. In his piece, he gave a voice to the feelings and thoughts of many African Americans, during a time when many had no voice. In his piece he states, “The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever of good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people, — a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people.” (Bois 11), therefore, claiming that although black people were granted freedom, they still didn’t have the equal rights they deserved. This which supported his idea of realism when he began to inspire blacks to stop accepting life as it is and start advocating for changes that would ultimately bring about a higher standard of living for the community as a whole. He spoke to the people about the events that were occurring during that time and sparked a new-found sense of hope in many who believed they deserved more.
At the end of the day, when comparing the literary pieces of Washington and Du Bois, the foundation of their writing arises from the same subject, the rights of the African American People. Both stories tied together in the sense that they both made monumental changes to the footprint of American literature, as we transitioned away from the romantic era and started to voice more realistic ideals. Those ideals which would have previously been hidden from the public eye, were now being brought to life through the form of realism writing in American literature. Thus changing the way we wrote forever, and opening new doors to opinion and change, post-war. Both authors stood firmly in the decision to advocate for their rights, however they did so in very different ways. Although they both brought about the use of realism and successfully voiced their opinions to the audience in a way that would have before this era of realism been suppressed, they have been historically known for believing in approaching change differently. Washington told a story of his life in which he told the American people that by working hard and slowly making adjustments to society, change was inevitable. Whereas Du Bois on the other hand, voiced his story to the public in a way that highlighted the idea that if you didn’t invoke change within yourself as a piece of society, then society would forever remain the same. Discussing voting rights in particular, in The Souls of Black Folk Du Bois said, “so far as Mr. Washington apologizes for injustice, North and South, does not rightly value the privilege and duty of voting, belittles the emasculating effects of caste distinctions and opposes the higher training and ambition of our brighter minds … we must unceasingly and firmly oppose [him]” (Bois). He inevitably believed in a more hands activist approach, in comparison to the literary works of Washington who was believed to be more of a peace maker than an activist when it came to realism writing.
Self-consciousness and Liberty in the Souls of Black Folk
“The cost of liberty is less than the price of repression.” Who was Du Bois and what story did he write? Du Bois was the first African American to earn a phD from Harvard for this helped him to be able to write the extraordinary story the Souls of Black Folk. This story entails many central ideas. These central ideas are developed throughout the story by the use of figurative language to be allowed to take the story to an advanced level. Du Bois uses these as the main ideas to facilitate the message the story is trying to send out. The central ideas being used are self-consciousness and liberty.
Firstly being used as a central idea is self-consciousness.Du Bois employed the phrase, “If however, the vistas disclosed as yet no goal, no resting place, little but flattery and criticism, the journey at least gave leisure for reflection and self-examination. It changed the child of Emancipation to the youth with dawning self-consciousness, self-realization, and self-respect.” Du Bois utilizes the metaphor to progress the idea about how obligatory education was to take a step towards the right direction of being true to one’self or “self-consciousness.” This needed to be accomplished to be able to find who they are and to accept themselves. Word choice impacted the way the phrase was portrayed gives the message that finding oneself is a process that keeps on going. Another textual evidence Du Bois uses to develop the central idea is,“He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white americansism, for he know that Negro blood has a message for the world.” This phrase is being used to show that African Americans try masking who they are and not showing people there true colors this reason being because they are afraid of rejection. The only way they will be able to liberate themselves is to demonstrate who they are and celebrate themselves. Du Bois uses a second central idea to develop his story.
Secondly being used as a central idea is liberty. Du Bois uses figurative language to develop the central idea liberty. ”Will America be poorer if she replace her brutal dyspeptic blundering with light-hearted but determined Negro humidity? Of her coarse and cruel wit with loving Javi all good humor?” These rhetorical questions being used consistently one after the other brings the strengths of African Americans while contrasting White Americans frailty. This phrase highlights the good characteristics that African Americans have. Another phrase Du Bois utilizes in his passage to advance the main idea is,” and, all in all, we black men seem the doll oasis of simple faith and reverence in a dusty desert of dollars and smartness.” Du Bois used this central idea throughout the story to carry out how marvelous African Americans are and that they are what an American is all about. African Americans need to stay united as brothers because they are greater ones.
To conclude, Du Bois uses rhetorical devices to develop the central idea self-consciousness and liberty. Self-consciousness to show that it was obligatory for Arican Americans believe in who they truly are to be able to progress in America and change things. Liberty is being used to show how badly African American wanted to feel free they wanted to gain freedom. Du Bois uses figurative language to give a voice to African Americans through a story and to help send the message the story is trying to provide. This story uses two great main ideas to progress all the story wants to convey.
The Ongoing Relevance of Du Bois and His Work the Souls of Black Folk
Du Bois is one of the first black African American sociologists to discuss the issue of race being a problem; he is an extremely prolific, influential and relevant being in terms of his work, he laid down the foundation to be able to discuss the issue of race on a macro scale and so openly (Moses, 1939, pg. 11). Du Bois’s work inspired many e.g. Gilroy, Martin Luther King, Hooks, amongst others. He coined the term black consciousness, and wrote heavily on the colour line, however race wasn’t the only issue he discussed, he also discussed education and folk culture.
Du Bois has numerous works published which highlight the issue of racism, his work is still relevant today in many ways. The Souls of Black Folk introduces the idea of double consciousness; the meaning to this being that it describes the awareness of having more than one social identity, it is when a black person has two different identities, one being a black negro the other being an American citizen, they are aware that they are not African-American but African and American; ‘An American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings’ (Du Bois, 1903, pg. 34). He recognises how double consciousness creates a split identify, it creates tension because being aware allows one to see through the veil that white dominations try to conceal; ‘Why did God make me an outcast and a stranger in mine own house?’ (Du Bois, 1903, pg.34) this quote illustrates how being black felt in America at the time, but it can still be applied to today, the pain and tension the quote illustrates is very much relevant to how black people in America are still battling the veil they’re put under. For example, police brutality against black American citizens is ongoing because black people are still seen as the inferior race; ‘Throughout history, the powers of single black men flash here and there like falling stars, and die sometimes before the world has rightly gauged their brightness’ (Du Bois, 1903, pg.34), this quote relates to both the injustice of violence against black men and those who are aware of their double consciousness and through this emancipate themselves from the white men through education still do not have a fair chance i.e. the assassination of Martin Luther king. Education went alongside double consciousness for Du Bois.
Du Bois argues that in order for black people to truly experience the right personhood education is key, learning and in taking knowledge is something he sees as highly beneficial, this being because once a black person is educated they’re able to free themselves from the white race because they are liberated. Although Du Bois recognised that ‘With other black boys the strife was not so fiercely sunny’ (Du Bois, 1903, pg. 34) this meaning that although he was motivated, he wanted education, he wanted to be free others did not see it the same way as he did, instead they settled for the life they were given. This too is relevant in the twenty first century as Mary Fuller’s study on black girls and education illustrates; she found that black girls in her study had liberate themselves with education, they freed themselves from the white superiority as they saw school as a means to education and didn’t allow the labelling or stereotypes define them whereas black boys were more accustomed to feeding into the labels and stereotypes. (Deem, 2012, ch.4)
‘The problem of the twenty first century is the colour line’ Du bois argued, this being because the colour line is an intersection of racism and classism, Du Bois believed that it’s hard to be black but it’s even harder to be black and poor (Du Bois, 1903, pg. 39 ). He argued having wealth wasn’t any more helpful because once a black man is educated thought self-realization of being enslaved they go back to being enslaved only through wealth as they’re intoxicated with greed and luxury to fill the void; ‘to be free is condemned to be free’(Sartre, 1943 ch.4) this related heavily to the wealth struggle as it helps explain the consequences that come from accepting double consciousness and life through the veil. In addition, due to this, Du Bois noted that slavery hasn’t ended; a new post-modern era didn’t erase slavery instead it created a new form of enslavement, although it created the dawn of freedom elements of slavery were still there (Du Bois, 1903, pg. 112-114). He illustrated this in his work of how hard the south tried to keep slavery instilled in society; they introduced a ballot system and unfair laws that entrapped black people into debt over land and mortgages; their emancipation was exploited unfairly as Du Bois stated ‘That to leave the Negro helpless and without a ballot-to-day is to leave him, not to the guidance of the best, but rather to the exploitation and debauchment of the worst’ (Du Bois, 1903, pg. 113). In literal terms slavery, still hasn’t ended; Libya is a prime example. Furthermore, Paul Gilroy a contemporary of Du Bois too argued that a new black middle class was developing, one that indulged in wealth and saw wealth as a main priority instead of politics; Gilroy argued that the never-ending racism and new forms of enslavement eroded black people’s self-worth and hope and created a culture of consumerism. (Gilroy, 2010, ch.1, pg.409)
The colour line also relates to mixing of races and the intersectional racism that occurs it; Du Bois discusses bastardy and the mixing of two generations through adultery and prostitution. He mentions how this brings in more racism, more prejudice, more ignorant thoughts, it allows white people to systematically rule racism through differentiation of dark-light skin colours (Du Bois, 1903, pg. 37). Du Bois introducing the notion of race being systemically controlled through differentiation of skin colour opened eyes i.e. Jay Z’s song ‘The story of OJ’ helps to explain the notion of how controlling racism through skin colour has convinced the black man that a light-skinned man is better because of his white privilege; Gilroy argued that the master slave relationship was used to colonise the west and introduce civilisation through white supremacist terror. (Gilroy,1993 ch.4)
Gilroy’s work stemmed from Du Bois, his influence related heavily to the folk culture/hip hop music culture. Gilroy focuses on how hip-hop culture doesn’t illustrate a pure identity instead it shows the cultural mixing. Du Bois briefly studied music and its culture to black people; he experienced and described slave songs and the terrible but passionate feelings it created. ‘a Pythinian madness, a demonic possession, that lent terrible reality to song and word’(Du Bois, 1999, pg.204). He argued that the slave songs were the music of a negro religion and were created through the culture of slavery; Gilroy argued that the slave music was seen as ‘a paradigm for the future’ it gave black people a place to stand in the musical and cultural aspect; slaves used music as an outcry, a form of expression which black people are still doing. (Abreu, 2015).
Du Bois ideas are still relevant today and still have an impact on society but his work had some major gaps; according to Bell Hooks she argued that Du bois looked at the problem between race and class but what he failed to recognise and include is the feminism movement and how there was segregation there too. Hooks was able to identify in her work ‘Ain’t I a woman’ that feminism was a female movement but there was a segregation because of colour; white women deemed themselves to be fighting for equal rights for women but dismissed the inclusion of black women in the notion of equal rights; at a movement in Akron, Ohio this was displayed when a white woman yelled for the black women not to be allowed to speak (Hooks, 2014, pg. 214). In fact, there was no sense of unity, it completely contradicted the movement and fight for equal rights. Hooks saw black feminism as more dominant, her illustration of Sojourners truth illustrates this ‘unlike most white rights women advocates Sojourner Truth could refer to her own personal life experience as evidence… to be work equal of man’ (Hooks 2014, pg. 215). Cooper was one of the first female black activist as Hooks points out in her work, Cooper discussed the assigned sex roles and questioned masculinity; she argued that masculinity doesn’t make a man different from women we just have to understand why men behave the way they do, and she argued that it was education, they were liberated In their position and that women too should escape their assigned role and participate in education; this view can be seen in heavy relation to Du Bois and his ideas of educating the youth (Hooks, 2014, pg. 255-256).
In conclusion, Du Bois is considered a highly relevant and influential being; his work influenced the likes of many that weren’t mentioned for example Rebekah, also his work lives on vicariously through many people who don’t even realise. Those who protest for black lives matter, black people who try to educate themselves to emancipation are influenced by Du Bois unknowingly. His work helped to shape a path for black people today; his critique of how sociologists treated black people also helped change sociology and the ethics of research for example Baartman and Benga.
Racial Issues in the Souls of Black Folk
The Souls of Black Folk is a book authored by W.E.B. Du Bois, a leading black intellectual and one of the movers and shakers during the Harlem Renaissance. The title, Souls of Black Folk refers to the spirituality of African Americans, their struggles, hopes as well as their identities and social experiences. Touching on Greek mythology, Christianity, and traditional African Voudoun, Du Bois manages to merge these references to spiritualize the Negro existence. This text is historically tied in to both the Harlem Renaissance (1912-1935) and the Civil Rights Movement (1958-1964) because of the emphasis on black identity, Negro consciousness, and the awareness and assertion of the Black American of his unique experience which fosters Negro pride, dignity, and a demand for equality and rights.
Without an independent personality, the Black folk are trapped as a projected image of societal impressions rather than who they really are. As far as Black identity is concerned Du Bois talks about “this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his twoness,—an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder” (Du Bois). The mainstream American stereotype of Black folk embodies the ridiculous, the frivolous, the thoughtless, and ultimately the inferior. This concept wars against innate Blackness. In the attempt to gain recognition, the Black man is compelled to assimilate himself into a mold to be accepted by a reluctant public who is humored and repulsed by him. Black folk have to stand up to misrepresentation, misconceptions, and perversions of the self and it is in striving against these elements that Negro literary and musical expression generates the desire to see social change and progress. “In its emphasis on the symbolic weight of Black folk spirituality and spiritual singing, the Souls of Black Folk stands as a singing book…the New Negro (1925) purpose is to sound a comprehensive Afro-American voice, one capable of singing in the manner of spirituals…yet adept in the ways of southern education and vocation” (Baker 1987). The universality of music and its skill in the mouths and instruments of Black musicians gave way to a music-based movement, the Harlem Renaissance, which stressed the essence of identity, unifying the voices of Black people. It is not until a genre of uniformity is conceived that black activism could take place. The New Negro, a novel which preceded the Harlem Renaissance is forged by Alain Locke. This new Negro is the neo African-American who refused the values of submission and passivity. This sentiment echoes W.E.B. Du Bois’ aspirations for Black folk who embrace one clear consciousness, instead of a dual one and who proactively pursue their goals, waging against the social divide and disproportionate dealings.
The Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement bring into view the importance of black educated authors who write from their own experiences, focusing on the injustices, discrimination, and Afrocentricity. Education is usually the predecessor to revolution and so it is with the Harlem Renaissance. Both these eras are both civil rights movement since they usher in a forum in which to convey expressions of grief and grievances. As a result, America is forced to recognize the ‘color-line’ and the plight of blacks. The Harlem Renaissance was a reactionary movement against the Jim Crow laws of the South which excluded and segregated Blacks from participating in mainstream life. The collective repression forced Blacks from all over the world to unite under the aegis of the New Negro Movement. People of African descent from America, Europe, Africa, and the Caribbean joined forces therefore a Pan-African association was born. Since the publishing of Souls of Black Folk in 1903, Du Bois already characterized Black folk summing up common backgrounds, nurturing a bond among Blacks. Both the Harlem Renaissance and the Civil Rights Movement are filled with Black activism and violence where Blacks rise up, defend themselves, protest against ills, and fight for rights. “Dr. Du Bois’ classic and most popular book emerged as an inspirational reference and resource for the modern Civil Rights Movement…(serving as) a protest statement in prose and song and as an example of the theory and praxis of protest strategies used by African Americans during the twentieth century” (Morgan). The popularity of protest poetry, song, and speech foments greater unity and hardens the will to oppose laws which perpetuated subjugation and tacit acceptance. It is no surprise either that Black spirituality also plays an active role in the Civil Rights era since it is Black spiritual leaders who spearhead the attack against racism, segregation, and inequality.
In sum, the Souls of Black Folk, The Harlem Renaissance, and the Civil Rights Movement have five common denominators: W.E.B Du Bois (1868-1963), who succeeded in surviving the two periods, Afro-American musicality, unity, spirituality, and education. The Souls of Black Folk paved the way for these developments to unfold and encouraged the poor masses to merge music with protest.
Black No More and the Souls of Black Folk: What Do They Have in Common?
As African Americans who lived around the turn of the 20th century, both George S. Schuyler and W.E.B. Du Bois encountered the issue of race in the United States in intimate fashion. The identity of the African American was an unresolved question during this period, and as prolific writers and social commentators, these two men constructed solutions to this matter through their respective literary approach. Schuyler composed a provocative narrative entitled Black No More, which offered an answer to the issue of race through satire. Du Bois alternatively held a more practical approach to dissolving racial barriers in the United States, which took into account the identity of the modern African American within a series of essays entitled The Souls of Black Folk. To the same extent that their literary styles differed, so too did their perspectives on race. Through fictional example, Schuyler regarded race as a quality among human beings which served to mislead, allowing it to be wielded as a tool for separation and disparity among the groups which it defined, while Du Bois’ insight into the Afro-American condition, both past and present, uplifted race as being a stronghold of community and therefore a source of individual empowerment.
In Black No More, Schuyler presented the quality of race as an obstacle that stood between African Americans and realizing their true identity. Schuyler understood, as did all African Americans in the 1930s, that the problem with race is the social pressure that being of a certain race can impose. Being of an inferior race, it can barricade an individual and a group’s collective aspirations. Race can be reminiscent of a smokescreen that hangs before one’s actual identity. If this is the case, race becomes something that we want to escape and to transcend. Given this confinement, Black No More presents the idea that if we were able to change our race, we should. As compared to finding a way for the black community to assimilate with the white community through social reform, Schuyler proposed an end to the color line by assimilating African Americans visually. Through Dr. Junius Crookman’s technological creation, known as Black No More, Inc., the skin of blacks can miraculously be turned white. In the book, the process is tremendously effective because the black people who undergo the Black No More process are not only white in color, but become virtually indistinguishable from whites in physical appearance as well. This provided an avenue for many people to live a life of increased privilege without the anxiety of racial discrimination. In spite of all of the promise that this business scheme presented, by erasing the black population in the United States, Crookman effectively erodes the significance of race along with it. The dynamic of race changes from an inherent, in-born quality that all human beings possess to something that is constructed and we therefore have a choice in deciding. As the birth of black babies from seemingly white couples within the novel indicates, race is still defined to be a genetic characteristic. In such a world where the color of one’s skin is mutable, however, race has meaning only as something socially constructed. In alignment with the selfish views that many of Schuyler’s characters possess, we would all choose to be white because it is the race that is in the majority and provides the greatest personal advantage. In this context, race is a fiction.
Given this notion that race resembles a smokescreen that clouds our true identity, Black No More shows how race can be very misleading. African Americans living during the early 20th century felt their culture to be inferior to that of whites and the attitudes of black characters within the book are a reflection of that sentiment. Instead of promoting an inferior culture, the normative choice for them was to look for ways to become white. This ability to fully enter into white culture is what made Black No More such a lucrative business. Schuyler, however, was convinced that black culture was equal to that of white culture, and articulated this lack of difference through the intelligence that many of his black, or previously black characters possess in contrast to the white characters. Dr. Crookman, for example, is clearly very intelligent to have created such a powerful force behind the Black No More operation. Additionally, Max, the guinea pig of the operation, lives in a world that has convinced him that he is inferior by his skin color alone, yet he becomes a white man, who goes out to exploit droves of white men for his own personal gain. The setbacks which Max faced as a black man were not innate, but were imposed by society. Max is a smart individual, and the only factor that played into his social disparity before and after his transformation was the color of his skin.
Yet, undergoing such a seemingly simple transition from black to white indicates the lack of a black culture. This lack of a black culture was seen through Max’s lack of self-evaluation when undergoing the Black No More process. There is no regret that Max encounters by turning his back on his kind, and neither do the individuals that follow him in the process. The only thing Max realizes is the lie that white culture perpetuates. For as much freedom and as many liberties as being white provides, the superiority of white culture in comparison to black culture within the United States has misled him into thinking that white people are more interesting than they truly are, while that is simply not the case. Even though Max finds the black culture more interesting, he still does not think twice about turning his back on his kind in exchange for greater prosperity and happiness.
Considering that race can be manipulated to change one’s appearance and consequently, their liberties, race exists as a tool. One would imagine that the abolition of blackness in Black No More would result in an end to racism, the solution to the race problem in the United States yet, in a paradoxical twist, a color line must be fabricated. It becomes known that the extremely pale people are the black people who turned white. Pale individuals become the target of discrimination, which influences all people to collectively desire a darker skin color. Instead of being a bastion of values that has the ability to unite groups of people, race is acknowledged as something divisive. This is signified by the droves of African Americans who turn their back on their kind with little thought and pay for the Black No More process day after day. In a capitalist society, race ultimately matters more than class. As compared to a world where race is indicative of something beneath the surface, Black No More creates a reality in which race is controllable, and at the fee of $50, it is a tool accessible for all black people, even in a post-Depression society. To use race as a means of providing an underclass is a problem that is deeply rooted in our economic system, and cannot be purged without great social change. Schuyler conveyed the absurdity of this system through the public lynching of the book’s political figures. This event shows that even in a time when there is great social change, humans still possess a fundamental desire to discriminate against others based on the color of their skin. As a former socialist, Schuyler may have been making a point about the flaw of the capitalist system, but the oppression of others is an ethical matter that undoubtedly falls upon the shoulders of the American people.
Instead of intending to fabricate a panacea to the tune of Black No More, Inc., Du Bois’ intent within The Souls of Black Folk was to flesh out the impediment that being black provided for the African American individual. Du Bois’ main concern in his essays rested in what he called the “veil.” This veil is a symbol for the ignorance of America towards the problems of blacks. It blocks insight into the problems of African Americans and serves to prevent blacks from taking their place in society as full American citizens. Until the veil is removed, argued Du Bois, the continuing schism between the two races will grow wider and wider.
Closely tied to the concept of the veil is that of “double consciousness,” or the process by which blacks have two identities within one body. Du Bois historically charts the development of the ‘World Spirit’ through its many peoples: Chinese, Egyptians, Indians, Greeks, Romans and Germans. Of this 7th type, the African American, Du Bois conceives “…sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world—a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world…”1 It is this seventh son, who possesses a distinct “twoness.” For Du Bois, the African American possessed no direct vision, but was measured only by the tape of the white world that oppressed him. This seventh son lives as both an American and an African American. The trouble with this was not the possession of two identities, but the possession of two contradictory identities. To survive in America, the black man must assimilate, yet he is bound to a unifying sense of community that his color provides. This duality of being serves as a kind of self-alienation for the black individual.
Although the African American alone shares this crisis of identity, Du Bois expressed that this uniqueness of being bore a united community that was empowered by their shared experience. Du Bois noted that the black community was signified by a number of defining cultural developments. In particular, he gave credit to the African American church as an institution that served to bind the souls of black folk. He described the church as “a real conserver of morals, a strengthener of family life, and the final authority on what is Good and Right.”2 While some churches had simply become places of business that aimed to avoid “unpleasant questions both within and without the black world,”3 they still remained a place where social, political, and economic inequity could be addressed in a public forum. The development of African American spirituals, or “sorrow songs,” also spoke to a development in which hope and community had been forged from despair. Sorrow songs had a great depth of meaning to them, and were written at the intersection of history, poetry, celebration, sadness, and soul. They had been refined through years of repetition and were songs that brought together a group through the collective spirit that is embodied within the song. The ability for spirituals to reinforce the value of preserving a distinctly black culture may have been the reason for why Du Bois called this music “the greatest gift of the Negro people.”4 Both the church and sorrow songs provided an avenue for African Americans to turn angst and frustration regarding their racial barriers into strength through numbers. Only other African Americans could truly empathize with their struggle and this public recognition of their shared plight served to channel negative emotions into an atmosphere of hope. According to Du Bois, the mutual understanding of the black community did not only serve uplift the African American; it defined him.
The solution to many of the problems that afflicted African Americans emerged for Du Bois in the form of education. Du Bois was an impassioned advocate for higher education. While Booker T. Washington focused on educating blacks for the trades and manual labor, Du Bois insisted that blacks should have access to intellectual education rivaling that available to whites. It was through enlightened public schooling that education would not only reach blacks, but whites as well. Only through this mutual knowledge could this veil and consequently the affliction of the black individual be lifted. Although Du Bois received a classical education, as the numerous Greek and Roman allusions within his essays display, he did not believe every black should receive a classical education. He recognized that many are not up to the task, but a “talented tenth” could receive this type of education. These blacks would then go out and spread education and culture within the black community. Du Bois himself is an exemplum of his own ideas, by showing how a black can benefit from education and provide a common ground between black and white.
During a speech which addressed the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., Robert F. Kennedy advised that we “tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.” This quotation serves to characterize the relationship that these two works share. Schuyler’s Black No More provides as a normative view for how people and the idea of race functions in a society, while Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk offers a prescriptive view for how all groups in the United States should behave with respect to the presence of race. By virtue of a sweeping and seemingly brilliant solution to the African American identity, Black No More serves to show that there is no immediate solution to problems of race. The most common trait among the characters within Schuyler’s novel, regardless of their race, is the materialist sentiment that they possess. The reality is that individual interests and aspirations of dominance over others will always motivate people. Even in a society with one race, there will always be an effort for individuals to stratify themselves through class. In light of these constants within society, we must uphold the ideals that Du Bois espoused. Whether race is a social construction or it is indicative of something more essential about who we are, its effects on society are very real. Du Bois provides us with a manner of dealing with the ubiquity of the color line, whether black or white. While African Americans may struggle to live with this twoness of identity, race can be an important quality to embrace because it provides the support of a specific community. Guided by the collective good of both races, Du Bois’ proposition for the availability of higher education would ease the social afflictions of black folk by allowing them to achieve greater prosperity and to provide white individuals the ability to better understand and appreciate their position within society.
Main Ideas of the Souls of Black Folk Novel
William Edward Burghardt Du Bois, also known as W.E.B. Du Bois, was considered one of the most important and greatest scholar-activist in American history. He was also the first African American to receive his PhD. He was considered a very significant figure due to his strong pursuit of justice for the African Americans. Many people looked up to him and were inspired by his leadership abilities. As a leader, Du Bois confronted disfranchisement, the Jim Crow laws, and lynching. He also wrote a book, The Souls of Black Folk, which described the meaning of being black in America.
In Du Bois’s book, he explains to the reader all of the hardships that African Americans had to go through and how the African Americans felt during the time of the twentieth century. In Du Bois’s opinion, he believed that the whites had no intentions or a care in the world on what happened to African Americans. He also had little patience towards African Americans that did not fight for their civil and political rights. Du Bois made it his mission to work with the African Americans to help gain the rights they deserve and move forward with their lives. His mission was to help make African Americans lives safer and better for the now, and for the future.
In Du Bois’s book, he says, “…the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world… (Du Bois, 1903, p. 2).” What Du Bois is trying to tell the reader is that blacks do not have a special place for themselves in America. The blacks are not given any insight about who they are or why they are treated so badly by the whites. He also explains how they have no true concept of themselves; they only see themselves the way that America sees them. Du Bois wanted to get these thoughts out of African Americans’ minds and focus on gaining their rights. He continued to go on and talk about how blacks were always considered just blacks. Even though they were living and working in America, they were still considered just blacks to everyone else—Negroes is the correct term that many whites called them. It was very hard for blacks to be able to call themselves Americans, because they felt like if they succumbed to the American socialization, they would lose their African roots and vice versa. Du Bois mainly wanted to be able to let a man be a Negro and an American. He believed they shouldn’t have to be one or the other.
W.E.B. Du Bois was not the only African American leader that blacks looked up to and followed. Booker T. Washington was the other leader, and his strategy to make African American’s lives better was opposed by W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois strived to make sure that blacks followed him and his strategies for a better life, because Washington’s strategy and leadership tactics was for blacks to not demand their civil rights and to steadily struggle rather than make defiant demands. Washington was a very conservative leader and was not a fan of addressing matters publicly, unlike Du Bois. In the textbook, “Du Bois found even more infuriating Washington’s willingness to compromise with the white South and Washington’s apparent agreement with white southerners that black people were not their equals… (Hine & Harold, 2014, p. 347). Du Bois believed that blacks have dealt with enough compromising with the whites, so they should not have to compromise any longer for the rights they should have, being that they are Americans.
Du Bois formed an organization that was made up of the wealthiest, most intellectual blacks called “The Talented Tenth.” With this group, Du Bois believed that since they were so much more advanced, they would make an aggressive effort fight and secure the rights for blacks. Du Bois also led an anti-Washington movement called the Niagara Movement, which not only focused on opposing Washington’s views and strategies for blacks, but to fight for voting rights and to stop segregation.
Later on, in the year of 1909, W.E.B. Du Bois helped to establish the NAACP, an organization that fought for the civil rights of African Americans. Back in the twentieth century, the NAACP was a perfect way to work with the whites and blacks when it came to helping towards the major goal of establishing civil rights for the blacks. The NAACP also fought towards the anti-lynching bills for blacks, and even though the efforts were failures, “early court victories and increasing national publicity reinforced the NAACP’s commitment to forcing change through political pressure and legal campaigns” (Bragg 2007-2015). Du Bois and the other founders were making progress, even though they were still not getting everything they wanted.
As time continued to pass, the blacks and whites founded the National Urban League. This organization helped and improved housing, medical care and recreational facilities for blacks when they were moving or settling into a large city. Even before the Urban League and NAACP were founded, black women were creating their own movements, clubs and organizations. Even though black women barely had any rights and were looked at as lesser than men, they were still trying to take the necessary steps towards a better life for all blacks. Black women formed the NACW, the National Association of Colored Women. Within this organization, black women formed clubs that helped eradicate poverty, end racial discrimination, promoted education, aid orphans, provide health care, and establish homes for delinquent or homeless children.
W.E.B. Du Bois was a very influential and successful African American leader. With the steps that he took towards helping African Americans establish civil and political rights, he was able to give African Americans the proper push for them to work and fight for what they deserve. Since blacks did not have the best life before they moved up North, they needed someone to be able to step in and be a leader so they can have someone to look up to and follow. W.E.B. Du Bois helped put the wheel in motion for African Americans to have their civil rights. From his opposition of Washington’s views to the founding of the NAACP, he cleared a path for African Americans to believe in themselves and not be afraid to be both African and American.
An Analysis of Double Consciousness in The Souls of Black Folk, a Book by W. E. B. Du Bois
At the heart of W.E.B. DuBois’s concept of double consciousness lies Saussure’s structuralism. At one point in time, society decided that a person with light skin would be called a white person, therefore giving the color of someone’s skin a sign, white, thus the signifying aspect being the lightness of their skin. Therefore the “other” were those with darker skin, who in America throughout much of the the 19th, 20th, and indeed 21st century were the black people. Based upon their intrinsic differences, the white society has placed a negative connotation to those with darker skin, which has resulted in blatant racism and many microaggressions that have manifested into double consciousness. The black people of America feel the otherness of their sign of blackness much more than the white people of America, who benefit fully (and oftentimes unknowingly) from the positive connotation of their sign. In this, the black people of America see the world differently as their situation requires them to. As W.E.B DuBois puts, living in America is like a prison house, “walls strait and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly narrow, tall, and unscalable to sons of night” (DuBois). There is a constant uphill battle based upon the otherness of a black person’s skin and their relation to American society as a whole. Chimamanda Adichie’s “The Thing Around Your Neck”, a short story about a Nigerian woman moving to America, is a real life tell about that examines how structuralism has led to double consciousness.
Not even 5 paragraphs into Adichie’s story, does the audience see exactly what it means to be black in America as she puts the audience in her shoes. Her time in America can almost best be summarized by her experience at the local community college in an all-white town. Here, she is “gawped at” (Adichie,) because her hair is different. The white woman want to know if it stood up or if she used a comb, they wanted to know if she had lived in a real house in Africa or ever seen a car. This creates two interesting levels of double consciousness. First, is the one that W.E.B DuBois knew so well of just being a black person in America, as seen by the white people’s microaggressions towards her hair, in which they (most likely) unawaringly point out their differences and inherent sense of superiority by pointing out that her hair is different and unlike theirs. With this the character in Adichie’s short story has to face head-on the fact that she is different because her hair is unlike theirs, which brings it back to structuralism. The character in Adichie’s story also faces another layering of double consciousness, that of being an African black woman. She faces the ignorance of white Americans who believe she wouldn’t have lived in a “real house” in Africa or have ever seen a car, because again structuralism. Long ago, America was given the name of the United States of America, which is signified as the great land of the free, an amazing country. Whereas, Africa is not America, therefore, in the eyes of many Americans it is not a great country just because it has differences. While this is undoubtedly not true, these higher education level women do not understand how Adichie’s character must feel to know that she comes from a place deemed less civilized and modern. From this, she knows she will always be viewed as lesser.
DuBois faced a different kind of double consciousness than Adichie’s character. He faced white discrimination as a black man, a much different specimen than as a black woman. While both are equally as a wrong, they definitely have different aspects to it. This can be seen even within the own black community as evident by Adichie’s character’s interaction with her “uncle,” in which he tries to force himself upon her. She doesn’t allow this to happen, to which he replies, “If you let him he would do many things for you. Smart women did it all the time. How did you think those women back home in Lagos with well-paying jobs made it? Even those in New York” (Adichie, 117). The uncle is implying that as a woman, no less a black woman, she is already disadvantaged as is, therefore the only way to become on equal playing grounds is to utilize her sexuality. Here she adds a new layer to her understanding of double consciousness. Not only does she have to see the world through the eyes of a black person, but also a black woman. She is different and mistreated because of her skin color, but also sexualized and repressed because of her sex.
After the incident with her uncle, Adichie’s character fled to connecticut and became a waitress. Here she faced much more discrimination as a person of color. The most alarming incident she mentions is that everyone thought she was Jamaican, as she snarkily comments, “because they thought every black person with a foreign accent was Jamaican” (119). However, not every encounter at the restaurant is negative like this one as she meets a man that will become her significant other for sometime. The only thing worth mentioning of this man is that he is rich and white, therefore has travelled the world, spending a considerable amount of time in Africa, which is how he initially impresses her by asking if she is Igbo or Yoruba. From there, he pursued her and finally she allotted him a date, which began an interesting relationship. When in public, Adichie’s character claims that they were an abnormality based on everyone’s reactions, whether it be old white men and women showing disgust, young white men and women showing support to showcase their open-mindedness, and even discontent or signs of solidarity from within the black community. Her relationship with this rich, white man falls into double consciousness as she is viewed through the frameworks of a black woman in an interracial relationship. The world sees her as different because it is not the normal relationship the world has signified, white with white, black with black. This is something different and some view it as negative and others view it through a forced positivity.
The rich, white man is not perfect as it is inferred through the short story that, while he does have feelings of some sort for her, he is also infatuated with her just based on the fact that she is an African woman, an exotic trophy. In some instances, he tries to pander to her by bringing her to an African shop and telling the store owner he is African. It cannot be argued that he doesn’t have good intentions, but as she points out, they are often times self-righteous. Even in her most comfortable relationship, she must view the world through the lens as a black African woman that is being romanticized based upon her ethnicity and color, thus meaning she will never fully feel comfortable in America, which is ultimately why she left without him to go back to Africa.
Double consciousness through structuralism has created a hard world many people of color in America. They are viewed as different based on arbitrary signs that were put in place years before their time. This has led to a feeling of unease and discomfort based upon this inherent prejudice for being darker skinned as the lighter skinned humans have all of the more positive connotations in America. The character in Adichie’s story “That Thing Around Your Neck” details this concept perfectly, unfortunately, as she struggles in America to find her footing as she is either ogled at or romanticized for being this different skin color. She is forced to view the world through the lens of someone else’s eyes, with a double consciousness.
Border Crossings and Their Impact on the Surrounding Society: How Breaking the Boundary of Race Poses a Bigger Threat to Others than a Crossing of Class or Gender Would
Within any society, there are borders that separate all of the citizens of the populace into different classifications. Among those borders are race, class, and gender. Crossing any of these borders stands as a great accomplishment for the person undertaking the challenge. Unfortunately, however, any feat of crossing a border — whether in terms of race, as W.E.B. Du Bois in The Souls of Black Folk, class, as Dalton Conley in Honky, or gender, as Jenny Boylan in She’s Not There — is viewed as a threat to the surrounding population. Passage over a racial boundary is generally perceived as the greatest threat to those in the vicinity of the crossing.
Refuting the belief that anyone can “get ahead” in life by moving up to another class, Conley writes in his memoir, Honky, that only wealth can help someone move up in terms of class. Living among minorities while associating with the white population, Conley witnessed firsthand life in both the lower and upper-middle classes. As an adolescent, Conley’s best friend, Michael Holt, and his family were affluent and able to live in the upper-middle class: “Honesty and household morality were such a given that the Holts could move on to a more ambitious agenda. They often went to, spoke at, and even organized political rallies, and not just in the P.S. 41 schoolyard” (Conley, 83). Because they were well off financially, the Holts were able to move into and bask in the upper-middle class. This showed that the only way someone would be able to move into another class was by being financially sound; because very few would ever earn enough to move up in terms of class, those already in the upper classes were less vulnerable to the threat of border crossing.
In The Souls of Black Folk, Du Bois states his belief that education would be the key for African Americans to join the same class as the white population. The founding of universities would help the South to educate its citizens, “but [the South] lacks that broad knowledge of what the world knows and knew of human living and doing, which [the South might] apply to the thousand problems of real life to-day confronting her” (Du Bois, 70). Du Bois argues that receiving an education from any of the colleges across the South would help to revive the distinct diversity of African Americans along with their history and culture. That education would also create a threat to the white class, however, because African Americans would have the same education and be in the same class as well.
In her autobiography, She’s Not There, Jenny Boylan depicts how others felt somewhat threatened when she crossed the border from male to female. All of Jim Boylan’s life, he knew that he was a woman on the inside, but he always wondered if others around him felt threatened by his longing to be a woman: “I thought I looked fine [dressed as a woman], if you didn’t look too close. Still, I stayed indoors. I did not want to jeopardize the program or my own professional integrity by risking intrigue” (Boylan, 115). After her surgery, he knew that Jenny would have to explain herself: “The more we feel compelled to keep explaining ourselves, the less like others we become” (Boylan, 250). Jenny tried to tell others that they shouldn’t be threatened by her gender border crossing, and through this she became even more independent. Boylan’s crossing from male to female was a transformation of identity, however, not an example of integration with others; that was why it was not as threatening to those around Boylan as the crossing of class and race borders.
As Du Bois depicts in The Souls of Black Folk, the crossing of a racial border poses a huge threat to those on the other side of it. Even after the slaves in America were freed, African Americans were still not treated fairly. They were free, but they still did not have the same rights as everyone else. The declared integration of these two races threatened white people everywhere with the prospect of equality. “The Nation has not yet found peace from its sins; the freedman has not yet found in freedom his promised land. Whatever good may have come in these years of change, the shadow of a deep disappointment rests upon the Negro people—a disappointment all the more bitter because the unattained ideal was unbounded save by the simple ignorance of a lowly people” (Du Bois, 7). As freed slaves crossed the border from black to white, the white population was extremely threatened by their quest for equal rights.
Similarly, Conley noted in his memoir how others seemed threatened because he was white in a minority-filled environment. As one of the only white children in a school of minorities, Conley learned that he was being treated differently because he was white: “By the time I left the Mini School I had learned what the concept of race meant. I now knew that, based on the color of my skin, I would be treated a certain way, whether that entailed not getting rapped across the knuckles, not having a name like everyone else, or not having the same kind of hair as my best friend” (Conley, 51). Each teacher in the school gave him special treatment just because he was white. When Conley crossed the border from white to minority, others seemed threatened by his white status, giving him special treatment and handling him differently.
Among the possible border crossings of race, class, and gender, the racial boundary stands as the most vulnerable and therefore is the most closely monitored by the surrounding population. Du Bois explained how the white population was threatened by freed slaves after the Civil War, and Conley witnessed firsthand how he was treated differently because he was white in a school full of minority students. Breaking the boundary of race is far more threatening to those surrounding the crossing than breaking boundaries of class or gender because of the perceived danger of racial integration; that crossing therefore remains the most challenging because it meets with the strongest opposition.
Education As A Tool To Eradicate Racial Segregation In The Souls Of Black Folk By W. E. B. Du Bois
The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois is an embodiment of classic American literature that persists in exerting its influence upon the contemporary world. It has been recognized as an idea changing work in sociology and forms a cornerstone of African American literature. The book constitutes of fourteen chapters that serve to epitomize the influence of racism on the American society during the beginning of the twentieth century. As an African American individual, Du Bois draws from his own experiences towards efficiently utilizing the elements of ethos, pathos, and logos. The South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The validity of the claim above is perhaps best exemplified via the thirteenth chapter of Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk, namely “Of the Coming of John.” This chapter primarily serves to highlight the potential of education in eradicating the veil of racial segregation, further identifying miscellaneous repercussions associated with such development.
“Of the Coming of John” juxtaposes the experiences of a Black man with that of a White man, serving to promulgate an omnipotent view of racial segregation that persisted in the wake of slavery’s abolishment during the 1800s. Apart from being namesakes and hailing from the same place of origin, both the Black and White John had little in common. While John (Black) is depicted as being a humble individual who embodies humility and intelligence, John (White) is portrayed as a privileged man who remains irate, impatient, and ignorant. The apparent contrast between both these characters exemplifies the existence of a veil governed via social, economic, and racial dynamics, essentially serving to promulgate cultural stratification and racism. As Dubois says “To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships”. The Black man pursues education by sacrificing everything else in his life, on the other hand, the White John attains education for being born in a privileged environment. The illustration as mentioned earlier is suggestive of privileged upbringing being the primary factor allowing for numerous individuals to be educated at elite academic institutions. Black John, upon having returned home, strives to contribute towards educating his community and in the process giving back what he had learned, in an attempt to educate the underprivileged. Nonetheless, his efforts are met with criticism as he is eventually alienated by his neighbors, as well as the community as a whole; “The people moved uneasily in their seats as John rose to reply… he spoke of the rise of charity and popular education… the age, he said, demanded new ideas… A painful hush skied that crowded mass. Little had they understood of what he said, for he spoke an unknown tongue”. Drawing from the discussions above, it becomes evident that education can potentially aid in achieving the maximal potential of an individual in particular, and the society in general, nonetheless, such transformations are associated with specific adverse outcomes as illustrated in the chapter.
Education as a tool for socioeconomic mobility remains a recurring theme throughout The Souls of Black Folk, best exemplified in the chapter “Of the Coming of John”. Du Bois strives to place a particular emphasis on the education of African-American individuals and its associated positive outcomes. By empowering themselves through education, the African American individuals can potentially eradicate the existence of the veil and uplift their social standing. The White men of the American nation had persistently oppressed the African American community via the institution of slavery. According to DuBois “The opposition of Negro education in the South was at first bitter, and showed itself in ashes, insult, and blood; for the South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro”. This caused a prolonged state of submission, the African American individuals lost their ability to achieve their maximal potential. The White men sought to suppress the Black individuals by suppressing their education, “John, this school is closed. You children can go home and get to work. The white people of Altamaha are not spending their money on black folks to have their heads crammed with impudence and lies”. “Of the Coming of John” identifies education as the primary means of social mobility and character development of the individuals from African American community. Furthermore, the chapter highlights the complex dynamics of such reforms for the African Americans who had minimal opportunity upon completion of education and hence failed at realizing its associated merits.
The chapter “Of the Coming of John” serves to elucidate how little value was placed in the lives of Black men and women, and how the dominant White class constantly sought to suppress them constantly. Moreover, lack of proper education had left such individuals unaware of their predicament and susceptible to be exploited by others. Such dynamics allow for the existence of pseudo-freedom wherein the society as a whole resists cultural, social, and economic integration. Black John, upon his return back home, realizes the existence of the state above of quasi-freedom, “He had left his queer thought-world and come back to a world of motion and of men. He looked now for the first time sharply about him, and wondered he had seen so little before, He grew slowly to feel almost for the first time the Veil that lay between him and the white world; he first noticed now the oppression that had not seemed oppression before”. It is imperative to recognize that Black John can draw upon the realization as mentioned earlier owing to his enhanced education. As such, it becomes evident Du Bois identifies education as the prominent methodology to racially uplift one’s economic and social class.
One of the most prominent and recurring themes in Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk remains education. “On the Coming of John” exemplifies various dynamics associated with enhanced educational background, and highlights its associated positive as well as negative outcomes. By eliciting an apparent contrast between Black and White Johns, Du Bois succeeds at effectively projecting the contradiction in the lives of White and Black Americans. Furthermore, the transformation in the character of Black John testifies to the potential of education in redefining individual lives. Additionally, Du Bois illustrates many repercussions associated with education, namely alienation, lack of adequate opportunities, depression, etc. Drawing from the analysis, it can be definitively stated that “Of the Coming of John” evidently embodies numerous elements of education, portrayed efficiently by many aspects of narrative fiction as a point of view, and within both characterization and dramatic structure.
The Souls of Black Folk and A Passage to India
In The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. 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 tape of a 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. E.M. Forster’s novel, A Passage to India both illustrates and complicates Dubois’ notion of double consciousness. Through the racial misconceptions and cultural pretenses that plague the interactions between the British and Indians, we see an uncertainty that lies in each individual’s sense of identity. 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 standards and daily experience for blacks in this country. Throughout the book, it is evident that Du Bois’ idea of double consciousness has two manifestations. The first is the power that white stereotypes have on black thought. He argues that despite having the knowledge of truth, African Americans continue to force themselves into a context of misrepresentation that is used to define their people. By submitting themselves to these paradigms, blacks allow themselves to remain the inferior race. The second demonstration of double consciousness is the racism that excluded African Americans from the mainstream of society. Blacks struggled to identify themselves and for them the internal conflict came from being African and being American simultaneously. The question of authenticity arose in Du Bois essay on “The Conservation of Races,” where he says:
No Negro who has given earnest thought to the situation of his people in America has failed, at some time in life, to find himself at these cross-roads; has failed to ask himself at some time: What, after all, am I? Am I an American or am I a Negro? Can I be both? Or is it my duty to cease to be a Negro as soon as possible and be an American? If I strive as a Negro, am I not perpetuating the very cleft that threatens and separates Black and White America? Is not my only possible practical aim the subduction of all that is Negro in me to the American? (Du Bois 233).Though they were native to America they were not considered to be American because their roots lied in Africa. They were thought to be foreign, and separate from the rest of the population, which is how they soon began to view themselves.
A Passage to India is a realistic documentation of the attitudes that British colonists hold towards native Indians, whom they control. Through the exploration of Anglo-Indian relationships, Forster attempts to illustrate how one is viewed not by his status but by his racial or cultural background. In the novel, Dr. Aziz embodies Forster’s notion of the “muddle” of India. Dr. Aziz struggles to identify with one distinct group of individuals. While his racial and cultural background characterizes him as Indian, he does not believe that he can truly relate to this group because he is an exception. His higher education allows him to want to be more like the British, who refuses to accept him as anything other than Indian.
Throughout the novel, the British continue to look pass Aziz’s title and education and see him solely as “one of Indians,” who they describe as a group of selfish and ignorant individuals. One major example of this perception is when Dr. Aziz is accused of sexually assaulting Miss Quested. Through his vivid description of the accused crime, and the British reaction toward the situation, Forster satirizes the overreaction by the British as not only silly, but also dangerously based on sentiment rather than truth. Many of the English took the assault on Adela Quested as an assault by all Indians on English womanhood. The English viewed the isolated incident as a threat to the British Empire itself. Their account of the assault is devoid of any recognition or sympathetic understanding of Aziz’s honorable character. They simply see the situation as a revelation of the Indians’ criminal tendencies. This idea is described through McBryde theory behind the assault. “All unfortunate natives are criminals at heart, for the simple reason that they live south of the latitude 30. They are not to blame; they have not a dog’s chance—we should be like them if we settled here” (Forster 184). McBryde explains that Indians have criminal tendencies because of the climate, thus their behavior is inherent and justified.
Dr. Aziz suffers from Du Bois’ notion of double consciousness. Aziz knows that he is different but allows himself to be slave to the stereotypes that come with being Indian. He struggles to define himself as an individual in a society that sees him simply as a member of a larger group. Because he knows that he is viewed as a “typical Indian” through the eyes of the British he feels the need to prove himself as being better than his counterparts but finds it hard to do so. Aziz’s numerous acts of generosity are often perceived to be fraudulent. In chapter VIII, Aziz lends Fielding his last collar stud to replace his broken one. Though Forster makes clear that Aziz’s unpinned collar was a display of his act of generosity towards Mr. Fielding, Ronny remarks the unscrupulous look as emblematic of the Indians’ general laziness. “Aziz was exquisitely dressed, from tie-pin to spats, but he had forgotten his back collar stud, and there you have the Indian all over: inattention to detail; the fundamental slackness that reveals the race” (Forster 87) Despite his friendship with Aziz, Fielding is still found making generalizations about the Indians based on one incident.
Though Aziz is a character who illustrates a person’s constant struggle with double consciousness, there are many individuals in the novel that Du Bois’ theory does not account for. Dubois argues that being Black meant being deprived of a “true self-consciousness,” as blacks viewed themselves only through the generalized contempt of white America. This idea can be related to the way in which the Indians perceived themselves through the eyes of their superiors, the British. While this may be true for many individuals of the oppressed group, there are some who are truly able to achieve self-consciousness. In his argument, Du Bois fails to leave room for these self-assured individuals. In A Passage to Mr. Fielding is an example of someone who does not struggle with double consciousness, but intern is able to identify himself not through the eyes of those around him but through his own eyes.
Among the Englishmen in Chandrapore, Mr. Fielding is by far the most successful at developing and sustaining relationships with the natives. Though Mr. Fielding is well aware of his status as an English man and the power that he has over the natives, he strives to be seen as an individual who does not embody the common stereotypes made about his people. In fact, he is the exact opposite and is seen throughout the novel as a model of liberal humanism. He treats the Indians not as an inferior race but as a group of individuals that he can connect with through mutual respect, courtesy, and intelligence. Fielding is not afraid to ally himself with “the enemy.” He honors his friendship with Aziz over any alliance with members of his own race. This disruption of allegiances threatens the solidarity of the English colonial rule over India. Fielding’s alliance and loyalty to the Indians is seen when he takes the side of Aziz in the assault trial. Fielding is ridiculed when he publicly expresses his belief in Aziz’s innocence. He is seen as a traitor and is believed to have betrayed his people and his country. This betrayal is seen in Fielding’s conversation with McBryde where he proclaims his belief in Aziz’s innocence. McBryde tells him that he ought not to get himself involved in the situation despite what his conscious is telling him.
“ I feel that things are rather unsatisfactory as well as most disastrous. We are heading for the most awful smash…”
“ I say he’s innocent—”
“Innocence or guilt, why mix yourself up? What’s the good?…We shall all have to hang together, old man I’m afraid.” (Forster 189)
Whether Aziz is guilty or innocent is not the issue at hand. The true issue lies in proclaiming an Indian’s innocence. By doing so the British is doomed for corruption and upheaval by the Indians in the state.
Throughout the novel, Mr. Fielding identity is not defined by the “group” that he his associated with but through his individuality and his ability to go against what is expected of him. By being able to set himself apart from the group Fielding does not struggle with double consciousness. By staying true to his beliefs and by not questioning his position in society he is able to identify himself solely as an individual and not as a member of a larger group. As Because he allied with the Indians, Fielding was cast out of the group and was finally able to seek refuge as an individual.
W.E.B. Du Bois uses the term double consciousness to describe how one vies themselves through the eyes of another. Though E.M. Forster’s A Passage to India illustrates Du Bois notion of double consciousness through its depiction of Dr. Aziz, it also complicates it by creating a character that is truly self-conscious and aware of his identity. In his concept of double-conscious Du Bois does not leave room or account for this type of individual.
• Du Bois, W.E.B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Bedford Books, 1997. Print.
• Forster, E.M. A Passage to India. New York, Harvest Books, 1965.