The Souls of Black Folk

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Double Consciousness Symbol Analysis

Double Consciousness Symbol Icon

Double consciousness is one of the most influential and enduring of Du Bois’ ideas, though he only mentions it explicitly a handful of times within The Souls of Black Folk. Double consciousness arises as a result of the Veil; forced to view themselves and the world through the white lens of racism, black people must then negotiate the interaction of this racist view with their own view of reality. Through this balancing act, a dual, contradictory consciousness emerges, one that feeds two opposing perspectives on the world to black people at once. Du Bois suggests that until African Americans can reconcile these two views and feel that there is no contradiction between being both black and American, they will be unable to achieve true progress, freedom, and peace.

Double Consciousness Quotes in The Souls of Black Folk

The The Souls of Black Folk quotes below all refer to the symbol of Double Consciousness. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Signet Classics edition of The Souls of Black Folk published in 2012.
Chapter 1 Quotes

It is a peculiar sensation, 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.

Related Characters: W.E.B. Du Bois (speaker)
Related Symbols: Double Consciousness
Page Number: 9
Explanation and Analysis:

Du Bois has described the moment during his childhood when he first became aware of the Veil, meaning the psychosocial force of racism that prevents black people from accessing the same chances, resources, treatment, and quality of life as white people. He argues that the Veil makes black people feel like outsiders in their own country, and even creates a painfully split subjectivity that he calls “double consciousness.” Although double consciousness was one of Du Bois’ most influential concepts, this is one of the only points in the book when he mentions it explicitly.

Du Bois explains that double consciousness is a painful burden because it creates a constant feeling of alienation, self-hatred, and doubt. He emphasizes that African-Americans are so torn apart by the warring identities and perspectives they are forced to inhabit that it can feel like existing as two opposing people, not one person. This is a major example of the psychological burden of racism, though Du Bois shows that double-consciousness does also have material effects, including causing black people to turn to hedonism and crime, or to too-readily compromise with whites on political matters.

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Double Consciousness Symbol Timeline in The Souls of Black Folk

The timeline below shows where the symbol Double Consciousness appears in The Souls of Black Folk. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Of Our Spiritual Strivings
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...are forced to view themselves through the hostile perspective of whites. Du Bois calls this “double-consciousness,” and suggests that it is both a burden and a kind of skill. Double-consciousness can... (full context)
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
African American history has been shaped by the struggle to overcome the state of double consciousness . Du Bois emphasizes that this does not mean eradicating either the African or American... (full context)
Chapter 10: Of the Faith of the Fathers
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...by the constant presence of the Veil. This double life then gives rise to “ double thoughts and double ideals.” On the one hand, the intense suffering caused by racism turns religion... (full context)