The Souls of Black Folk

by

W.E.B. Du Bois

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Du Bois dedicates Chapter 13 to the story of John Jones, a fictional character arguably representative of late 19th-century Southern black men as a whole. John grows up in Altamaha in Southeast Georgia, and he begins the story as a hard-working and cheerful young man unaware of the reality of racial oppression. The black community in which John grows up sends him to Wells Institute, where he struggles as a student and grows embittered as he learns the truth about racism and comes to feel the presence of the Veil. On a trip to New York City, John has a humiliating encounter with the “White John,” his old childhood playmate and the son of a powerful white Judge back in Altamaha. The White John espouses racist sentiments and has Jones thrown out of a concert hall where they're both attending a show, after which a humiliated Jones returns to his hometown with hope of helping the black community. The Judge allows him to teach at the black school but orders that the school be closed as soon as he finds out that Jones is teaching the students about revolution and equality. At the end of the story, when Jones comes upon the White John assaulting Jones’s sister, Jennie, in the woods, he beats the White John to death with a tree branch. After this, he informs his mother that he’s going north again but instead goes back into the woods and passively waits to be lynched by the Judge and his angry mob. Du Bois leaves the central message of Jones’s story deliberately ambiguous. On one level, the story is a kind of bildungsroman (coming-of-age tale), a story of a young black man moving from a place of innocence to crushing awareness of racism. It is unclear, however, what moral the reader should take away from this tale. John’s story ends in bitterness, failure, and an implied violent death, yet this narrative is arguably not a warning against pursuing knowledge and striving for justice, but rather an honest—and pessimistic—exploration of what it means to be a black person in the U.S.

John Jones Quotes in The Souls of Black Folk

The The Souls of Black Folk quotes below are all either spoken by John Jones or refer to John Jones. 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 numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Signet Classics edition of The Souls of Black Folk published in 2012.
Chapter 13 Quotes

“Now I like the colored people, and sympathize with all their reasonable aspirations; but you and I both know, John, that in this country the Negro must remain subordinate, and can never expect to be the equal of white men. In their place, your people can be honest and respectful; and God knows, I'll do what I can to help them. But when they want to reverse nature, and rule white men, and marry white women, and sit in my parlor, then, by God! we'll hold them under if we have to lynch every Nigger in the land.”

Related Characters: John Jones
Page Number: 206
Explanation and Analysis:
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John Jones Character Timeline in The Souls of Black Folk

The timeline below shows where the character John Jones appears in The Souls of Black Folk. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 13: Of the Coming of John
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
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...Wells Institute and the black students who attend it. He points out a single student, John Jones, who is constantly late but has a charming, honest smile. Jones came from the... (full context)
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The Judge also has a son named John, who was a childhood playmate of John Jones. Like Jones, the “White John” has left... (full context)
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At the Institute, meanwhile, the faculty worry about John Jones because he “[does] not know how to study” and is always getting into trouble.... (full context)
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Having become painfully aware of the existence of racial oppression, John grows bitter, and his words bear traces of sarcasm. However, he enthusiastically accepts an offer... (full context)
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Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
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...theater, the fair-haired man notices that the black man he ran into in the hallway (John) is sitting directly beside his and his date’s two reserved seats. He complains about John... (full context)
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Arriving back in Altamaha, John is unrecognizable to his community, and they to him. At church, he tells the black... (full context)
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John goes to ask the white Judge if he can teach at the town’s new black... (full context)
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A month after the black school opens, the White John returns home as well. His family, along with the entire white half of town, is... (full context)
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As the Judge and the White John talk, neighbors begin to wander by, and the local postmaster comments that John Jones is... (full context)
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Meanwhile, the White John wanders around the house in the wake of the Judge’s sudden departure. He goes out... (full context)
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Having been ordered by the Judge to close the black school, John Jones begins walking toward home to meet Jennie and break the news to her when... (full context)
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After gazing down at the surreal sight of at the White John’s “white and still” body lying beneath the pine trees, Jones hurriedly walks back to the... (full context)
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Suddenly, John is distracted by the starlight above, which makes him think of the luxurious gold ceiling... (full context)