The Souls of Black Folk

One of the most crucial, influential and powerful works in the history of American Literature. The Souls of Black Folk is a cornerstone of African-American literary history, and wholly redefined the history of black experience in America, including W.E.B. Du Bois’ now famous notion of the ‘colour line’. Published in 1903, the book contains a collection of essays in Du Bois’ incisive, lucid style. The ideas expressed here not only inspired the renewed black consciousness of the 1960s, exemplified by the differing careers of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, but also contributed to establishing The Souls of Black Folk as a founding text of the US civil rights movement. This is at once a work of advocacy, rhetoric and literature, a vital thread in the tapestry of American prose. The Souls of Black Folk explores for the first time the metaphor of “the veil” – in which Du Bois argued that African Americans possess “no true self-consciousness” but rather a “double consciousness” and therefore must always see themselves as they are perceived by whites, “through a veil”. In his own words, ‘It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at oneself 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 two-ness – 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.” This early conceptual framework of African American duality is – writes Henry Louis Gates Jr – Du Bois’s “most important gift to the black literary tradition”.

Yale University Press
W.E.B. Du Bois

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