Souls Of Black Folk


Souls Of Black Folk Essay, Research Paper

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The Different Conceptions of the

Veil in The Souls of Black Folk quot;For now we see through a glass,


*P*-Isiah 25:7*/P*

W.E.B. Du Bois’s *I*Souls of Black Folk*/I*, 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 *I*The Souls of Black Folk*/I*. 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."*A href=#Footnote1B

name=Footnote1A*Footnote1*/A* The veil is a metaphor for the

separation and invisibility of black life and existence in

America and is a reoccurring theme in books about black life

in America.

*br* 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"*A

href=#Footnote2B name=Footnote2A*Footnote2*/A*, is a allusion

to Saint Paul’s line in Isiah 25:7, "For now we see

through a glass, darkly."*A href=#Footnote3B

name=Footnote3A*Footnote3*/A* 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."*A href=#Footnote4B

name=Footnote4A*Footnote4*/A* 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.

*br* The veil metaphor in *I*Souls of Black Folk*/I* 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."*A href=#Footnote5B

name=Footnote5A*Footnote5*/A* The invisibility of Black

existence in America is one of the reasons why Du Bois writes

*I*Souls of Black Folk*/I* 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."*A href=#Footnote6B

name=Footnote6A*Footnote6*/A* 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 *I*Souls of Black Folk*/I* 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."*A href=#Footnote7B


*br* 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."*A href=#Footnote8B

name=Footnote8A*Footnote8*/A* Raboteau tries to uncover and

bring to light the religious practices of Black slaves, he

tried to bring their history out of the veil. Rabatoeu writes

how religion for slaves was a way in which, "slaves

maintained their identity as persons despite a system bent on

reducing them to a subhuman level… In the midst of slavery

religion was for the enslaved a space of meaning, freedom,

and transcendence."*A href=#Footnote9B

name=Footnote9A*Footnote9*/A* Because slave religion was an

invisible institution hidden by a veil from white slave

masters it provided a way in which slaves could resist social

death. The history of Black women is also the history of a

people made invisible; hidden behind the veil. Bell Hooks in

her study of Black women and feminism tries to bring to light

the forgotten past of black women who have also been hidden

behind a veil, " Traditionally, scholars have emphasized

the impact of slavery on the black male consciousness,

arguing that black men more so than black women were the real

victims of slavery."*A href=#Footnote10B

name=Footnote10A*Footnote10*/A* To Bell Hooks the veil which

makes black women invisible to white society is made from an

inseparable cloth woven from the threads of racism and

sexism. The Black reconstruction period is another area in

which scholars have grappled with the consequences of the

veil which has hidden the history of black striving and

struggle from view. Eric Foner’s book on the reconstruction

was the first major study of the period since Du Bois’s book

on the period fifty years earlier.*A href=#Footnote11B

name=Footnote11A*Footnote11*/A* The reconstruction which

Foner terms America’s unfinished revolution could also be

called American invisible revolution due to the lack of

scholarship on the area.

*br* The most striking examples of the theme of the veil and

invisibility is in literature about Blacks struggling with

their identity and with oppression. In *I*Beloved*/I* Setha’s

rational for killing her child can not be understood by the

white police system which sentence her to prison. In Ralph

Ellison’s *I*Invisible Man*/I* the main character says,

"I am an invisible man, No I am not a spook like those

that haunted Edgar Allan Poe; nor am I one of your Hollywood

movie ectoplasm’s. I am a man of flesh and bone, fiber and

liquids- and I might even be said to possess a mind. I am

invisible understand because people refuse to see me."*A

href=#Footnote12B name=Footnote12A*Footnote12*/A* Ralph

Ellison’s invisible man like the history of black women,

slavery, reconstruction, and many other elements of black

life are hidden behind "the veil" making them

invisible to much of society.

*br* The veil is also a metaphor for the separation both

physically and psychologically of blacks and whites America.

Physically the veil separates blacks and whites through

Slavery, Jim Crow laws, economic inequality, and the

voluntary segregation that followed the end of the civil war.

The veil acts as a physical barrier that permanently brands

black Americans as an "other"; the veil is the

metaphorical manifestation of the train tracks that divide

the black and white parts of town. Du Bois in Chapter two

lays out the creation of the veil from the end of the civil

war to the failure of reconstruction. The following chapters

then tell of those who have acted to strengthen the veil such

as Booker T. Washington or who suffered behind the veil such

as the school children Du Bois taught.

*br* The veil also acts as a psychological barrier separating

blacks from whites. The theme of the psychological separation

of blacks and whites is a central metaphor of the book

starting with the first lines where Du Bois recalls his

encounters with whites who view him not as a person but as a

problem, "They half approach me in a half-hesitant sort

of way, eye me curiously or compassionately, and then instead

of saying directly how does it feel to be a problem? They

say, I know an Excellent colored man in my town."*A

href=#Footnote13B name=Footnote13A*Footnote13*/A* The veil in

this case hides the humanity of blacks which has important

implications to the types of relations that developed between

blacks and whites. With their humanity hidden behind

"the veil" black and white relations at the time of

the writing of the *I*Souls of Black Folk*/I* were marked by

violence: draft riots in New York during the Civil War, riots

following the reconstruction period, the lynching of Blacks,

and the formation of the Klu Klux Klan.*A href=#Footnote14B


*br* The theme of separation caused by the veil is repeated in

many other black texts. In Raboteau’s book slave religious

practices were separate from white religious practices.*A

href=#Footnote15B name=Footnote15A*Footnote15*/A* Although

many time slaves and their masters worshipped together

religion during the slavery period provided to very separate

things for master and slaves. For the master religion was a

way to justify slavery*A href=#Footnote16B

name=Footnote16A*Footnote16*/A* and for slaves religion

became a form of resistance and hope; a way to resist social

death. In Eric Foner’s book on reconstruction a veil

separated black and white interpretations of

reconstruction.*A href=#Footnote17B

name=Footnote17A*Footnote17*/A* For blacks reconstruction was

a time of hope and freedom; for whites reconstruction was a

time in which the north repressed a defeated region, with

ignorant former slaves, who unable to act constructively for

themselves were pawns of the northern intruders. The veil, a

metaphor for separation both physically and psychologically

hides the humanity of blacks, and created deep divisions

between the races.

*br* Du Bois in *I*Souls of Black Folk*/I* unlike other

blacks is able to move around the veil, operate behind it,

lift it, and even transcend it. In the forethought Du Bois

tells the reader that in the following chapters he has,

"Stepped with in the veil, raising it that you may view

faintly its deeper recesses, -the meaning of its religion,

the passion of its human sorrow, and the struggle of its

greater souls."*A href=#Footnote18B

name=Footnote18A*Footnote18*/A* Du Bois in the first Chapter

steps outside the veil to reveal the origin and his awareness

of the veil. And it is Du Bois’s awareness of the veil that

allows him to step outside of it and reveal the history of

the Negro, "his two-ness, -an American, a Negro, two

souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings, two warring

ideals in one dark body."*A href=#Footnote19B

name=Footnote19A*Footnote19*/A* Now that he has lifted the

veil in the following chapters Du Bois shows his white

audience the history of the Black man following

reconstruction, the origins of the black church. Du Bois then

talks about the conditions of individuals living behind the

veil from his first born son who, "With in the veil was

he born, said I; and there with in shall he live, -a Negro

and a Negro’s son…. I saw the shadow of the veil as it

passed over my baby, I saw the cold city towering above the

blood read land."*A href=#Footnote20B

name=Footnote20A*Footnote20*/A* In this passage Du Bois is

both with in and above the veil. He is a Negro living like

his baby within the veil but he is also above the veil, able

to see it pass over his child. After Du Bois’s child dies he

prays that it will, "sleep till I sleep, and waken to a

baby voice and the ceaseless patter of little feet-above the

veil."*A href=#Footnote21B

name=Footnote21A*Footnote21*/A* Here Du Bois is living above

the veil but in the following Chapter he once again travels

behind the veil to tell the story of Alexander Crummell a

black man who for, "fourscore years had he wondered in

this same world of mine, within the Veil."*A

href=#Footnote22B name=Footnote22A*Footnote22*/A* Du Bois

then in the last Chapter "Sorrow Songs" travels

back into the veil from which he came, to return to the

spiritual. Du Bois’s ability to move around the veil could

create some confusion as to whether the writer is black. For

this reason Du Bois says in his introduction says that,

"I who speak here am bone of the bone and flesh of the

flesh of them that live within the veil."*A

href=#Footnote23B name=Footnote23A*Footnote23*/A* Du Bois’s

ability to move in and out of the veil gives him the ability

to expose to whites that which is obscured from their view.

It also lends Du Bois authority when speaking about his

subject matter for he alone in the book is able to operate on

both sides of the veil.

*br* In the Chapter on "Sorrow Songs" Du Bois

implores the reader to rise above the veil, "In his good

time America shall rend the veil and the prisoner shall go

free."*A href=#Footnote24B

name=Footnote24A*Footnote24*/A* Du Bois likens the veil to a

prison that traps Blacks from achieving progress and freedom.

According to Du Bois the veil causes Blacks to accept the

false images that whites see of Blacks. Du Bois although not

explicitly in *I*Souls of Black Folk*/I* critique’s Booker T.

Washington for accepting the veil and accepting white’s ideas

of Blacks. Booker T. Washington an accomidationist accepts

the white idea that blacks are problem people; not a people

with a problem caused by white racism.*A href=#Footnote25B

name=Footnote25A*Footnote25*/A* Booker T. Washington seeks to

work behind the veil by pursuing polices of accommodation. Du

Bois in contrast wants blacks to transcend the veil by

politically agitating and educating themselves.

*br* Du Bois’s conception of the veil contradicts some of the

other theme’s in *I*Souls of Black Folk*/I*. First, how can

the problem of the twentieth century be that of the

color-line when blacks are invisible behind a veil of

prejudice? Second, how can Du Bois speak from behind the veil

as he does in parts of certain chapters and yet present a

resemble critique of society? Third, how can the veil both

make blacks invisible and separate them at the same time and

make the separations so apparent to society. Fourth, how can

Du Bois say blacks are gifted with "second sight"

when Du Bois says blacks are looking at their past and

present through a veil? And Fifth, Du Bois’s prescription for

lifting the veil, education and political activism, are only

small steps to lifting the stifling iron veil that keeps

blacks invisible and separated from white America. Du Bois’s

metaphor has limitations and internal contradictions; but

these internal contradictions are minor compared to the power

that "the veil" has as a symbol of black existence

in America.

*br* The veil in *I*Souls of Black Folk*/I* is a metaphor

that connotes the invisibility of black America, the

separation between whites and blacks, and the obstacles that

blacks face in gaining self-consciousness in a racist

society. The veil is also a metaphor that reoccurs in other

novels about black strivings. The veil is not a two

dimensional cloth to Du Bois but instead it is a three

dimensional prison that prevent blacks from seeing themselves

as they are but instead makes them see the negative

stereotypes that whites have of them.*A href=#Footnote26B

name=Footnote26A*Footnote26*/A* The veil is also to Du Bois

both a blind fold and a noose on the existence of "ten

thousand thousand" Americans who live and strive

invisible and separated from their white brothers and

sisters. Du Bois wrote *I*Souls of Black Folk*/I*s to lift

the veil and show the pain and sorrow of a striving people.

Like Saint Paul’s letter to the Corinthians Du Bois’s

"letter" to the American people urges people not to

live behind the veil but to live above it. */P*

*CENTER**FORM**P*So, wed with truth, */P*

*P*I dwell above the Veil.*/P*

*P*Is this the life you grudge us, O knightly America?*/P*

*P*-W.E.B. Du Bois*/P*

*P* */P*



*P**A href=#Footnote1A name=Footnote1B*Footnote1*/A**/P*

*P* W.E.B. Du Bois,*I* The Souls of Black Folk*/I* (New

York: Bantam Company, 1989) 3.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote2A name=Footnote2B*Footnote2*/A**/P*

*P* Ibid., 6.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote3A name=Footnote3B*Footnote3*/A**/P*

*P* Arnold Rampersad, *I*Slavery and the literary

imagination: Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk*/I*

(Baltimore: The John Hopkins University Press, 1989) 104-125.

Rampersad in his book says that Du Bois’s metaphor of the

veil is an allusion to Saint Paul’s letter to the

Corinthians. */P*

*P**A href=#Footnote4A name=Footnote4B*Footnote4*/A**/P*

*P* W.E.B. Du Bois,*I* The Souls of Black Folk*/I* (New

York: Bantam Company, 1989) 3.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote5A name=Footnote5B*Footnote5*/A**/P*

*P* Ibid., 3.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote6A name=Footnote6B*Footnote6*/A**/P*

*P* Ibid., xxxi.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote7A name=Footnote7B*Footnote7*/A**/P*

*P* Ibid., 189.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote8A name=Footnote8B*Footnote8*/A**/P*

*P* Albert Rabatoteau, *I*Slave Religion: The invisible

institution "in the Antebellum South" */I* (Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 1980) 212-318.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote9A name=Footnote9B*Footnote9*/A**/P*

*P* Ibid., 318.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote10A name=Footnote10B*Footnote10*/A**/P*

*P* Bell Hooks, *I*Ain’t I a Women: black women and

*/I*feminism (Boston: South End Press, 1981) 20.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote11A name=Footnote11B*Footnote11*/A**/P*

*P* Eric Foner, *I*Reconstruction America’s Unfinished

Revolution*/I* (New York: Harper & Row Company, 1989)


*P**A href=#Footnote12A name=Footnote12B*Footnote12*/A**/P*

*P* Ralph Ellison, *I*Invisible Man*/I* (New York: Random

House Publishing, 1990) 3.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote13A name=Footnote13B*Footnote13*/A**/P*

*P* W.E.B. Du Bois,*I* The Souls of Black Folk*/I* (New

York: Bantam Company, 1989) 1.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote14A name=Footnote14B*Footnote14*/A**/P*

*P* Eric Foner, *I*Reconstruction America’s Unfinished

Revolution*/I* (New York: Harper & Row Company, 1989)


*P**A href=#Footnote15A name=Footnote15B*Footnote15*/A**/P*

*P* Albert Rabatoteau, *I*Slave Religion: The invisible

institution "in the Antebellum South" */I* (Oxford:

Oxford University Press, 1980) 294-300. According to

Rabatoteau slaves stressed the stores of Exodus and the

Sermon on Mount thus providing them with hope in the darkness

of slavery.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote16A name=Footnote16B*Footnote16*/A**/P*

*P* Slave owners out special emphasis on sections of the

Bible which justified slavery, such as the Hamitic

Hypothesis, the Apostle Paul’s letter to Phileon a slave

owner, and the Hebrew Slaves. */P*

*P**A href=#Footnote17A name=Footnote17B*Footnote17*/A**/P*

*P* Eric Foner, *I*Reconstruction America’s Unfinished

Revolution*/I* (New York: Harper & Row Company, 1989)


*P**A href=#Footnote18A name=Footnote18B*Footnote18*/A**/P*

*P* W.E.B. Du Bois,*I* The Souls of Black Folk*/I* (New

York: Bantam Company, 1989) xxxi.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote19A name=Footnote19B*Footnote19*/A**/P*

*P* Ibid., 3.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote20A name=Footnote20B*Footnote20*/A**/P*

*P* Ibid., 147.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote21A name=Footnote21B*Footnote21*/A**/P*

*P* Ibid., 151.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote22A name=Footnote22B*Footnote22*/A**/P*

*P* Ibid., 153.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote23A name=Footnote23B*Footnote23*/A**/P*

*P* Ibid., xxxii.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote24A name=Footnote24B*Footnote24*/A**/P*

*P* Ibid., 187.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote25A name=Footnote25B*Footnote25*/A**/P*

*P* August Meier, *I*Negro thought in America 1880-1915*/I*

(Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1966) 230-232.*/P*

*P**A href=#Footnote26A name=Footnote26B*Footnote26*/A**/P*

*P* Paula Giddings, When and Where I Enter (New York: Quill

William Morrow, 1984) 184. Paula Giddings points out how

black women were stereotyped into three categories, the

sexless suffering Aunt Jamima, the seductive temptress

Jezebel, and the evil manipulative Sapphire. These are just

some of the negative stereotypes of Blacks that formed on the

white side of the veil. */P*



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