The Souls of Black Folk

The Veil Symbol Icon

The Veil is the most frequently mentioned symbol in the book, and one of Du Bois’ most important ideas. In some ways, it is possible to think of the Veil as a psychological manifestation of the color line. The color line exists in the world, defining people’s access to opportunities and to institutions from universities to bathrooms to the justice system. The Veil, on the other hand, exists in people’s minds, and compels white people to structure society according to a racist logic—to build and police along the color line. Du Bois argues that the Veil prevents white people from seeing black people as Americans, and from treating them as fully human. At the same time, the Veil in turn prevents black people from seeing themselves as they really are, outside of the negative vision of blackness created by racism.

According to Du Bois, the Veil is a constant presence, but not one that is felt all the time. It takes time for young children to realize the Veil exists, and it is for this reason that Du Bois feels a perverse sense of joy that his son died before he was old enough to perceive the Veil. In some instances, this innocent ignorance can last beyond childhood, as in the case of John Jones. It isn’t until John leaves rural Georgia that he truly feels the presence of the Veil. Through this example, Du Bois suggests that the Veil is felt less severely by those growing up within a segregated black community, or perhaps in contexts where they feel that racial inequality is a fundamental and permanent aspect of life.

The Veil Quotes in The Souls of Black Folk

The The Souls of Black Folk quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Veil. 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 11 Quotes

Why was his hair tinted with gold? An evil omen was golden hair in my life. Why had not the brown of his eyes crushed out and killed the blue? –For brown were his father's eyes, and his father's father's. And thus in the Land of the Color-line I saw, as it fell across my baby, the shadow of the Veil.

Related Characters: W.E.B. Du Bois (speaker), Burghardt Du Bois
Related Symbols: The Color Line, The Veil
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:

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The Veil Symbol Timeline in The Souls of Black Folk

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Veil appears in The Souls of Black Folk. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Forethought
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...of Booker T. Washington. In the next chapters Du Bois introduces the concept of “the Veil,” and discusses the issue of education. Further chapters cover the black peasantry, religion, and song.... (full context)
Chapter 1: Of Our Spiritual Strivings
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...he was different, and was excluded from the world of white people by “a vast veil.” (full context)
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
Du Bois didn’t immediately feel the need to destroy the veil, but instead dedicated himself to working hard in the hope of excelling in the future... (full context)
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...Bois characterizes black people as “a sort of seventh son,” cursed to live behind the veil. At the same time, this veil produces a “second-sight” that means black people are forced... (full context)
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...but this has not necessarily been a good thing; forced to view themselves through the veil, black people can come to feel self-conscious about the issues of poverty and ignorance. As... (full context)
Chapter 4: Of the Meaning of Progress
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...first he was pleased to be invited to dinner, however, the “awful shadow of the Veil” fell when Du Bois realized the white men would eat first, “then I—alone.” (full context)
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...drawn together by a common experience of the cycle of life, poverty, hardship, and “the Veil that hung between us and Opportunity.”Older members of the community tended to view life with... (full context)
Chapter 5: Of the Wings of Atlanta
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...caused by the combination of poverty, serfdom, crime and punishment, and most of all, “the Veil of Race.” (full context)
Chapter 6: Of the Training of Black Men
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...between humans and animals—potentially “lovable within [their] limitations,” but doomed to always be behind the Veil. The third mode of thought is that of black people themselves, who yearn for freedom... (full context)
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...help people realize their potential, “stamp out” prejudice, and support those who live behind the Veil. (full context)
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...is only through being well-educated that he is able to ever find himself “above the Veil.” (full context)
Chapter 10: Of the Faith of the Fathers
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...remember that African-Americans live a “double life” inherently colored by the constant presence of the Veil. This double life then gives rise to “double thoughtsand double ideals.” On the one hand,... (full context)
Chapter 11: Of the Passing of the First-Born
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...at the child’s blonde hair uneasily, feeling that it was an ominous reminder of the Veil. Du Bois explains that the baby grew to be lively and strong, and that he... (full context)
Slavery vs. Freedom Theme Icon
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...help but be grateful that his son, who never grew old enough to experience the Veil, was “not dead… but free.” (full context)
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...have grown up and “borne his burden more bravely than we,” or even that the Veil would somehow be lifted within his son’s lifetime. For now, however, the Veil remains very... (full context)
Chapter 13: Of the Coming of John
Material vs. Psychological Racism Theme Icon
Education Theme Icon
Leadership Theme Icon
Exclusion vs. Belonging Theme Icon
...maturity and understanding of the world, however, cause him to feel the presence of the Veil for the first time. (full context)