The Souls of Black Folk

The Souls of Black Folk Themes

The Existence of the Veil

"The Veil" is one of the central pieces in Du Bois' "The Souls of Black Folk." Lauded in American history and sociology for its symbolic importance, the veil is a predominant theme throughout the book. This veil separated black and white populations and made it so that only African-Americans existed within the veil. It was from within this veil that the black population (the "Negro") experienced oppression. While it was possible for the Negro to understand life from within the veil and also outside of it, it was not possible for white people to fully understand the oppression experienced by the black race. When young, Du Bois was ignorant to the existence of the Veil; it was not until he was subject to discrimination based on his race that he was able to fully examine life from within it. The Veil, thus, was not only a form of oppression, but also insight into the experience of the Negro. As long as the Negro existed, so did the veil.  

The Importance of Education

Throughout the collection of essays, Du Bois places a particular emphasis on the role of education for the African-American. Through education, the African-American (who he refers to as "the Negro") is able to reach empowerment and fight against the existence of the veil. Throughout the institution of slavery, the white man oppressed the African-American. Living in captivity resulted in a loss of the sense of self and in an ability to reach an ultimately idealistic potential. Through the rise of the educated Negro, however, this collective group is able to fight against the white majority.  

Duality and "Double Consciousness"

In his essay, "Double Consciousness and the Veil," Du Bois introduces the existence of Double Consciousness, which is a recurring theme throughout every essay. Double consciousness refers to living with two identities: the "Negro" identity, with all of its nuances, and the "American" identity forced upon the Negro upon settling in the United States. The Negro is tasked with merging these two conflicting identities. He can never truly be "just" an American or "just" Negro, for the social condition of the United States does not allow it. The work of literature provides a constant reminder of the difficulties of merging identities for the African-American, particularly in a land that did not necessarily belong to them.  

Persistence of Racism

Every story and historical analysis that Du Bois provides in his work of literature is filled with mentions of racial prejudice and the varying degrees of racism afflicted upon the African-American ("Negro") people. During slavery, the African-American was held in captivity due to differences in skin color. After slavery, this system racism developed into a national racism entrenched within the American bureaucratic system. While the Negro was now free, he was not able to achieve ultimate freedom because of all of the injustices presented to him. The Negro was now free, but he could not be educated, he could not work, and he could not achieve wealth. Thus, the persistence of racism resulted in even more oppression that ultimately enslaved the African-American's mind. This thematic presence enabled Du Bois to depict that despite freedom from slavery, the African-American could not achieve actual freedom if racism was not eradicated.

The Problem of the Color-Line

The color-line, which separates the white race from colored people, is what Du Bois considers to be the greatest problem of the 20th Century. The color line exists both symbolically and figuratively as a marker that separates these two groups of people. Within society, blacks and whites do not live together as the color-line exists. While these groups live within the same country, they have vastly different experiences all because of this color-line. This is particularly relevant, because it explains the oppression and domination that the Negro faces within the 18th and 19th Century. As long as the color-line existed, it would be difficult for the African-American to gain the same level of success as the more dominant white race. The color-line is essential in the discussion of the veil and double consciousness, as well, as it is one of the main issues that the "Negro" is faced with.

The Injustice of Death

The injustice of death comes to the reader in Du Bois' chapter "Of the Passing of the First Born" (149), where he chronicles his experience of losing his child at a very young age. The injustice of death coincides with the veil: because Du Bois' son died at a young age, he died above the veil, but the pain felt by losing a child was far worse than the veil. Thus, even though the veil was a preeminent part of the African-American experience, death and its injustice would always supersede it.

The Importance and Centrality of Religion

Throughout the most difficult trials, the African-American (the "Negro") held on to the faith he had in Christianity. This devotion to faith is what enabled the Negro to live despite being held captive by slavery. The Black Church's rise as the social center of the Negro community demonstrated that the Negro was not only devout and faithful, but also empowered, and on a path to education. These religious communities and institutions provided the Negro with a belief that despite the difficulties they faced on Earth, there was a stronger and higher power that would care for this group.

Black Leaders as Symbols of Change

Du Bois provides summaries of Booker T. Washington and Alexander Crummell, two black leaders. Although they also faced the oppression of the veil, they were able to fight against it until they gained prominent positions within society. These black leaders symbolized the change that the African-American community was going through: once an oppressed facet of American life, they were freeing themselves from figurative and literal enslavement, and providing the average African-American with hope. Booker-T-Washington and Alexander Crummell, two successful "Negros" of the time provided the African-American community with insight as to what it was like to be successful.