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The Souls of Black Folk is both American classic and influential piece of work in Afro-American literature written by W.E.B. Du Bois. Du Bois uses his personal experience to mix the African American history together with song, sociological data and poetry in order to create a masterpiece. This paper is a review of The souls of Black folk. After reading the book, I found it interesting and would recommend it to others with interest in history.
The Souls of Black Folk is both American classic and influential piece of work in Afro-American literature written by W.E.B. Du Bois. Published 1903, the book has fourteen essays touching on a number of issues including race discrimination. Du Bois uses his personal experience to mix the African American history together with song, sociological data and poetry in order to create a masterpiece. He brings out the life of African American in the society of the USA and shows how they struggle for recognition and cultural identity. In his time, the white majority despised Afro-Americans and perceived them as creatures without souls. They stereotypically viewed blacks as a group that had to be controlled by terror. Blacks were represented as clowns and primitive creatures. In my view, the main point that Du Bois passes across is that color poses a dilemma in the twentieth century.
The Souls of Black Folk illustrates social and spiritual life of an African American showing how they struggled for civil rights and what they have actually contributed to the United States (Du Bois, 1903). The book takes a look at the various ways of their culture becoming fundamental to the larger American society, and also depicts how historical injustices like slavery have made that relationship a sour one. In his introduction to the 1989 edition Henry Louis Gates, Jr., states that The Souls of Black Folk has been an absolute pillar of African American culture for successive generations of black intellectuals ever since 1903 (Gates & Oliver, 1999). He says that Du Bois’ contemporaries, as well as subsequent scholars, have all agreed that the book is poetic in the way it pays attention to detail. They have also agreed that it is successful in the way it narrates about the nation of black Americans at the beginning of the twentieth century (Gates & Oliver, 1999).
The book starts with Du Bois stating that his main aim is to represent the feeling of being black in the United States, especially in the beginning of the twentieth century (Du Bois, 1903). This is so because he thinks that the issue of race is at the core of the problems facing the century. The Souls of Black Folk addresses political and historical issues from chapter one to three. This section takes a look at the mistakes, as well as mismanagement of blacks after the emancipation proclamation. In the statement “a conflict between two opposed selves: the one seeing and the other seen; the one contemptuous and the other remote; the one American and the other Negro” (Du Bois, 1903) Du Bois clearly visualizes the ideas of “twoness” and “double-consciousness”. Such ideas of identity are immersed throughout the book, which makes it a complex and deeply moving piece of work depicting the fate of African Americans in the U.S. society. In my opinion, the book touches on social, literary and historical perspectives, which makes it hard to classify it into any genre.
Du Bois goes back and looks into the years immediately after the Civil War. He particularly examines the role played by the Freedmen’s Bureau in the Reconstruction era. According to the book, the Bureau failed in its mandate due to the mismanagement and biasness of the courts in favoring black litigants. However, the Bureau succeeded in contributing into the founding of African American schools. Du Bois thinks that since the end of reconstruction the most important event to happen in African American history has been the rise of Booker T. Washington (viewed as an educator who rose to become a spokesman for the black race).
Du Bois asserts that Washington’s policy on race relations has been damaging the overall and long-term progress of the black race. Washington implies an attitude of submission by accepting segregation and instead emphasizing material gain, which contributed to the loss of civil status, the vote and aid for higher learning institutions. It is important to note in what way these three factors are instrumental for the progress of the African American race. The book then describes the experiences of those blacks in the South; cultural practices and poor conditions that could only be associated with slavery. He goes on to review the living conditions that the colored minority were forced to tolerate due to illiteracy and poverty as well (Du Bois, Gibson & Elbert, 1996). There were numerous family breakdowns as a result of this poverty.
Some of the experiences narrated by Du Bois include those of him as a schoolteacher in the rural parts of Tennessee. He holds the view that blacks should have an education that enables them to contribute to lower education besides helping in race relations improvement. Du Bois then examines the rural American life by using Dougherty County, Georgia as an example. He writes about the county’s history as well as the current conditions. While cotton still remains the life-blood of the Black Belt economy, very few blacks enjoy the economic success it brings (Du Bois, 1987). Nothing much has changed ever since; the legal and tenant farming system is still as it was during the slave era. Du Bois criticizes the systems of loans used to grow cotton and how merchants used to except nothing short of cotton as a security for these loans. This meant that the poor were forced to grow crops that did not profit them at all. In the end, it was hard for them to get out of poverty, and hence made them quit working hard. This argument is true even today with regards to a number of Third World countries immersed in debt. He also traces the African. Through its development American religion from its origins in Africa to the time of the Baptist and Methodist churches was formed. He then examines the way slavery impacted on morality; the church was used to keep people enslaved. Du Bois criticizes the churches for fuelling the segregation of the South. The church allowed the subjugation of the colored race.
The last chapters of the book look into racial prejudice and its impact on individuals. While mourning the death of his son, he ponders on whether his son is better off dead than growing in a world that is determined by color-line (Boss, 1996). The story of Alexander Crummel takes central stage in this part of the book. Crummel is remembered for struggling against prejudice while attempting to become an Episcopal priest. In the chapter “Of the Coming of John” Du Bois tells a story of a young black man who gets educated (Boss, 1996). However, the new knowledge attained by John puts him at odds with part of Southern community and is finally brought down by racism. Concluding the book, Du Bois writes an essay on African American spirituals. The songs are developed from their origins in Africa into powerful expressions of pain, sorrow and exile, which characterize what African American go through in daily life. Du Bois views these songs as the most beautiful expression of human experience besides being the sole American music.
It is a very good book, especially for history lovers. I found the introduction the most captivating as it can make any reader yearn for more. The language used, though sad, is beautifully balanced. I agree with Du Bois in his argument as to why keeping individuals in ignorance and poverty hurts the whole country, which might even lead to unrest and rebellion. It is intriguing to note that there are those in power who argue that educating the masses will give them dangerous ideas. However, in this book Du Bois proves how poverty provides them with these ideas. To my mind, there are many thoughts in this book that could be highly relevant to date. It is important to build a nation taking its history into account. Some of the issues that may still be relevant include the importance of education being part of a political process as well as the significance of universal suffrage and the problems that come about when one group dominates another. It is essential to note that none of these issues have been fully settled in many countries. I see Du Bois as a brilliant scholar; he literally came up with the scientific method of observation. I view him as a renaissance man who cared a lot about his people. As a result of his efforts, white racism came under attack. He demonstrated his capabilities by moving to Ghana. He became instrumental when he organized the first ever Pan-African Congress, which then set stage for afrocentricity. He influenced people in the United States and beyond.
In my view, Souls of Black Folk is a narrative that depicts critical race theory. I recommend it as it is a necessary reading touching on formal black studies. I believe the book calls for the empowerment of the black people. Thus, it should be read by everyone as it deals with many problems facing all races in this century. The Souls of Black Folk is both American classic and influential piece of work in African American literature. I believe that the main point that Du Bois passes across is that color poses a dilemma in the twentieth century.
The Souls of Black Folk is an influential piece of work in African American literature because it was accepted across all races. As a matter of fact, it was published more than twenty times since 1903. All the fourteen essays touch on a number of serious issues that affect numerous countries. It was very creative for Du Bois to use his personal experience to mix the African American history together with song, sociological data, and poetry in order to create a masterpiece. It is without a doubt that he brought out the life of an African American in American society in reality, and he struggled for recognition and cultural identity.
In conclusion, I also believe that The Souls of Black Folk truly illustrates the social and spiritual life of an African American showing how they struggled for civil rights and what they have actually contributed to the United States. It was important that the book takes a look at the various ways that black culture is fundamental to the larger American society, and also how historical injustices did make that relationship a sour one. In my opinion, the book has been an absolute pillar of African American culture for successive generations of black intellectuals. I concur with Du Bois’ contemporaries and subsequent scholars that the book is poetic in the way it pays attention to detail. I also agree that it is successful in the way it narrates the nation of black Americans at the beginning of the twentieth century.
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