The Souls Of Black Folk English Literature Essay
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Dec 12th, 2019

The Souls Of Black Folk English Literature Essay

William Edward Burghardt Du Bois was born on February 23, 1868 in Great Barrington Massachusetts, to Alfred Du Bois and Mary Silvina Burghardt. His father deserted him and his mother when he was two years old and was raised solely by his mother. He was born into a racially mixed town and his family was apart of the free black population that could own land. So he was never fully exposed to what live was like growing up with the Jim Crow Laws and being separated.

He then attends Great Barrington High School and to help his mom works as a correspondent for New York Age, the New York Globe, and the Springfield Republican. He graduated top of his class and wins a scholarship to a predominately black college called Fisk University. Next he gets a summer job teaching in school districts of Rural Tennessee which exposes him to the reality of the Jim Crow Laws and it sparks his interest in civil rights.

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He graduates and studies African-American History at Harvard University. This is when he begins to look back at years right after the Civil War ends and how the Freedmen’s Bureau’s role in reconstruction. And he looks at the role of Famous African American men like Booker T. Washington and how there beliefs are different than his own. All These events in his life are the main events that influenced/ compelled him to write the novel.

After the novel was published it had a powerful impact on African American intellectual life because people started to think about having an immediate end to segregation and being fully equal to whites. Even after his death in August 27, 1963 his thought process influenced many civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. to have the same thought process and fulfill his dream of African Americans having equal rights.

Source cited for The Author and His Times: My book and Wikipedia ONLY!

Unknown, Author. “W.E.B. DU Bois.” 12 January 2008. 6 April 2010>.

Form, Structure, and Plot:


The Souls of Black Folk, By W.E.B Du Bois is a collection of thirteen different essays and one short story written by Du Bois between 1897 and 1903. Du Bois put the different essays into certain sections. Chapter 1-3 are essays dealing with historical background about, “what emancipation [after the civil war] meant to them and what was its aftermath” (pg. 3). He also talks about the “slow rise of personal leadership and, and criticized candidly the leader who bears the chief burden of his race today [Booker T. Washington]” (pg. 3). Then chapter 4-9 talks about the social aspects of American society at the time. I realized this because Du Bois said that in these chapters, “I have sketched in swift outline the two worlds within and without the veil, and thus have come to central problem of training men for life” (pg. 3). Finally in chapter 10-14 Dubois focuses on how racial prejudice impacts African Americans by saying that “in these chapters I have studied the struggles of the massed millions of the black peasantry and in another have sought to make clear the present relations of the sons and of master and man” (pg.3).


In the Souls of Black Folk, By W.E.B Du Bois his structure is very simple every essay is a chapter and they start of the same way. Before every chapter begins he put a song or poem, which helps present a mood and gives a preview about what the essay/chapter going to be about. Then you have an introduction paragraph that tells us what it is about and gives the reader historical background and starts out with a question. Next you have the body paragraphs in which back up his introduction and finally a conclusion that usually has stream of consciousness because it has own little thought/ story that concludes the essay.


Throughout the fourteen chapters there are different essays each containing different stories and plots that conclude Du Bois’ own thoughts. But it is all centered on a central plot/ideal of trying to show how African Americans lived and the racial struggles that they had to go through in the 20th century.

Point of View:

Since the book is a collection of his essays and has three sections to it, the point of view seems to change with the sections. His point of view goes back and fourth between third person and 1st person. In chapter 1-3 he basically gives the reader a history lessiion because he talks about life before and after the Civil War, the Freedmans Bureau’s role in reconstruction and Booker T. Washington’s theories in regards to how African Americans should get their rights. Because of this history lesson style he writes in a limited 3rd person omniscient. This is clear due to the fact that he does not say I or we, but tells the story without adding how the people felt, but how they seemed. It’s more of an observance, but in the conclusions he talks in 1st person to tell his feelings and or tells a story about his life to back up his findings. An example of third person omniscient is on page 36 when he says, “So Mr. Washington’s cult has gained inquisition followers, his work was wonderfully proposed, his friends are legion, and his enemies are confounded.”

While in chapters 4-9 and 10-14 it makes a shift in voice because he begins to tell his stories about how African Americans live and their social life with his own experiences. A case in point is when he is talking about Alexander Crummell he says, “The more I met Alexander Crummell, the more I felt how much that world was loosing which knew so little of him…I wondered where he is to-day?” on page 161. His point of view moves from 1st person to third person in order to give the reader a full perspective of what is was like to be an African American in the 20th century.

If written in another persons perspective (like a white persons), they would probably try to show that black are problem to society and they contribute nothing to the better meant of society and that’s why they should not be given civil rights.


Character Overview:

The book is written about W.E.B Du Bois’ experiences and since the characters are in fact real people it makes them believable. Some of the main characters include W.E.B Du Bois (Protagonist), Alexander Crummell (Protagonist), Booker T. Washington (Antagonist), and John Jones (Protagonist). The main characters tend to be static, flat, and simple only because they are only shown in one brief period of time and it does not allow the reader to see them evolve or how they became successful. Their role in the book is to help show how African Americans can be successful even in tough times during the 20th century. While the minor characters including the slaves, their masters, and Louise one of his students are examples people who encounter different situations with the “color line/the Veil.”

In depth Characters:

Booker T. Washington: He was a famous, smart, intellectual, well put together African American scientist roughly in his 30’s or 40’s during the time in which the novel was written. Due to his success he was a very influential to the African American society at the time. In the novel he could be considered the antagonist in the story because he believes that African America’s at that time should wait and improve themselves while society got used to the colors. This made it hard for Du Bois to get more people to follow his theory that consisted of acting immediately to end segregation and to be fully equal in every aspect in relation to the white people. W.E.B. Du Bois write, “Mr. Washington has not always been of this broad character. In the South especially has he had to walk warily to avoid the harsh judgments” (pg.37). This quote shows that although Du Bois does not like Washington he still recognizes the fact that he went through different trials and tribulations in his life to get to the place he was at now.

John Jones: He is a young African American activist between the ages of late 20’s and early 30’s. He was a charismatic, adventurous, intelligent African American. These were all characteristics that Du Bois admired and which is the reason why he could be considered a protagonist in the novel. Also he is considered the protagonist because he helps created a higher level education school for African Americans. He overcame the challenges of Judge Henderson trying to close the school and so he ends up symbolizing the importance of educating black students in the 20th century. Du Bois write, “It seemed to us that the first time life ever struck Jones as a really serious thing was when the Dean told him he must leave school…Thus he grew in body and soul” (pg. 165-167). This quote shows that he was a trouble maker in his past but was able to realize the importance of education and change for the better.


The setting for this book takes place in southern states like Tennessee and Georgia during the 20th century (roughly 1870-1903) after the American Civil War. Du Bois describes the environment/atmosphere in the South with words and phrases such as, “dull,” “bitterness,” “sweat into the soil” and “haunted by a ghost.” (pg. 58-59). The setting he describes shows the south as a place that was in turmoil and one in dire need of reconstruction. But reconstruction in the end had its benefits for many other ethnic groups, but discriminated against African Americans in regards to education. This is important to the story because it shows how much harder it was for African Americans to get their rights, driving an even bigger wedge between black and whites.

It is also vitally important that the story took place in the South rather than anywhere else, because Du Bois was trying to show the reader the real lives of black folk and how they needed their civil rights in the South then and there, because they were not granted the simplest needs like education. While, in other place like in the North and the West their economy was not solely based on slavery, which meant that they were not in dire need of African Americans and gave more acceptance towards them making it an un-ideal setting for Du Bois’ novcel. This also show why it was essential that the story takes place in the south because it ultimately would not be able to be as convincing/realistic anywhere else.


In his novel, W.E.B Du Boise, uses formal diction throughout his essays. An example of his formal diction in the book is when he says, “The history of American Negro is the history of this strife,-this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self” (pg.9). This quote shows formal diction because it has no slang and uses elevated words like “strife” and “self-conscious.” By using no slang and those to words, the formal diction in the novel shows that he is well educated. It also shows that he was financially well off, because while the others around him were not because they could not afford and education. The uses of formal diction helps convey the minor theme in the story about how important having an education is, because it leads to one being able to convey there thought is a well manner.

Du Bois’ dialogue in the story is mostly formal and his character does not talk in quotations as much. But he does use more dialogue for his other subjects/characters in the story in order to show the reader how African Americans interact with each other in the 20th century. For example on pg. 174 John Jones is talking to one of his students and says cheerfully “Now Mandy, that’s better; but you must not chop your word up so: ‘If -the-man-goes.’ Why, your little brother even wouldn’t tell a story that way, now would he?” “Naw, suh, he can’t talk.” She said. It shows African Americans are gentler toward each other. It also shows how they do not use formal diction when talking to each other, but rather informal diction because they are more comfortable with each other.

Du Bois also uses dialogue to show how white people in the 20th century used cruel vulgar diction in order to demean African Americans. An example is on pg. 173 when the judge talks about John Jones saying, “Oh nothing in paticulah,-just his almighty air and uppish ways. B’lieve I did heah somethin’ about his givin’ talks on the French Revolution, equality, and such like. He’s what I call a dangerous Nigger.”

Diction in Passages:

“Atalanta is not the first or the last maiden whom greed of gold has led to defile the temple of Love; and not maids alone, but men in the race of life, sink from the high and generous ideals of youth to the gambler’s code of the Bourse; and in all our Nation’s striving is not the Gospel of Work befouled by the Gospel of Pay? So common is this that one-half think it normal; so unquestioned, that we almost fear to question if the end of racing is not gold, if the aim of man is not rightly to be rich. And if this is the fault of America, how dire a danger lies before a new land and a new city, lest Atlanta, stooping for mere gold, shall find that gold accursed!” (pg. 59-60)

Explanation: In this passage from the Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B Du Bois uses positive words like “gold,” “Gospel,” “Love” and “rich,” to help depict a picture of Atlanta Georgia. Unfortunately the positive words are overshadowed by the negative word like “sink,” “gambler,” “stooping,” “dire,” “fear,” and “danger.” The negative words are used in order to show the readers that many get sucked into Atlanta’s appeal by becoming centered around materialistic needs that are meet by having lots of money. So Du Bois wants to break this vicious cycle because many have stopped from finding comfort in religion and found comfort in materialistic items. This quote also displays Du Bois’ typical style of fomal diction because he uses no slang when explaining the city.

“And yet, being a problem is a strange experience,-peculiar even for one who has never been anything else, save perhaps in babyhood and in Europe. It is in the early days of rollicking boyhood that the revelation first bursts upon one, all in a day, as it were. I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards-ten cents a package-and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card,-refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil.” (pg.8)

Explanation: In this passage he uses the same technique when using diction as passage 1. He uses positive diction like “merry,” But through context clues the reader realizes that those happy words are once again overshadowed with negative words like “Problem,” “strange,” “refused,” “different,” “shut out” and “veil.” Unlike the first passage where diction was showing the setting/characterization of one place in this passage, Du Bois, uses diction to show how he felt when he realized that he is in fact African American and was at the time prohibited from fulfilling things because of the “veil.” This is also important because it is a vital part of the theme to the story. In addition this quote shows his use of fomal diction because he uses no slang and enhanced vocabulary like, “peremptorily” and “peculiar.”


In the Novel, The Souls of Black Folk, the syntax Du Bois uses generally has one formal pattern, which includes long and complex sentences. The reader can come to this conclusion because they are usually extended with words like “but,” and “and.” But, are also lengthened with dashes, semicolons, and commas. He extends his sentences to the maximum in order to finish his thought fully. Also the reader can tell he is using complex sentences because he starts with one or more independent clauses in addition to his main clause. In the end he uses complex sentences in order to say how he feels in the beginning of the sentence or describe the event and then to tell what happened. This ultimately helps keep a constant flow/rhythm for the reader by making it easier for them to understand the novel. Also it reveals

Other than long and complex sentences his syntax is very simple but he does utilizes rhetorical questions in order to tell the reader what question or questions will be answered in the essay. In addition he uses them at the end of the essay to show that there are still unanswered questions that he had while exploring the topic. Also he uses quite frequently a switch between passive and active voice. Which he uses to distinguish between his experiences/him doing something and his observance of others. This use of syntax reveals to the reader that he is an educated African American due to the fact that he can have complex thought patterns and put those complex though patterns into his novel.

Syntax Paragraph:

“Atalanta is not the first or the last maiden whom greed of gold has led to defile the temple of Love; and not maids alone, but men in the race of life, sink from the high and generous ideals of youth to the gambler’s code of the Bourse; and in all our Nation’s striving is not the Gospel of Work befouled by the Gospel of Pay? So common is this that one-half think it normal; so unquestioned, that we almost fear to question if the end of racing is not gold, if the aim of man is not rightly to be rich. And if this is the fault of America, how dire a danger lies before a new land and a new city, lest Atlanta, stooping for mere gold, shall find that gold accursed!” (pg. 59-60)


This passage is a prime example of the common syntax Du Bois primarily uses because he uses using long and complex sentences, the passive voice, and a rhetorical question. One can tell it is long due to the fact he uses quite a few ands, semicolons, and commas in order to develop the look and feel of Atlanta. It also becomes apparent that he uses complex sentences because he uses one or more independent clauses like “Atalanta is not the first or the last maiden whom greed of gold has led to defile the temple of Love;” and “and not maids alone, but men in the race of life, sink from the high and generous ideals of youth to the gambler’s code of the Bourse;” But, finishes off with a main clause that sums up what Atlanta has made Americans now by saying “and in all our Nation’s striving is not the Gospel of Work befouled by the Gospel of Pay?” This passage is also and example of Du Bois using a rhetorical question in order to tell what question he had and that he will be answering in the question. Finally, he is also uses the passive voice throughout the passage to show that he is talking about the observances of others in Atlanta. It also shows that he has a complex thought pattern because he is able to observe Atlante and use complex sentences to rely what he sees to the reader. Which shows he has a higher level of education under his belt.

Concrete Detail/Imagery:

Touch Example:

“No soft hands but hers much touch those little lambs; no dress or frill must touch them that had not wearied her fingers; no voice but hers could coax him off to Dreamland, and she and he together spoke some soft and unknown tongue and in it held communion.” (Pg.148-149) This is an example of touch because it says he touched he soft hands. The sense of touch that Du Bois uses shows the reader the image that these two people were hopelessly in love with each other.

Sight Example:

“Amid the trees in the dim morning twilight he watched their shadows dancing and heard their horses thundering toward him, until at last they came sweeping like a storm, and he saw in front that haggard white-haired man, whose eyes flashed red with fury. Oh, how he pitied him,-pitied him,-and wondered if he had the coiling twisted rope. Then, as the storm burst round him, he rose slowly to his feet and turned his closed eyes toward the Sea. And the world whistled in his ears.” (pg. 176) Sight shows that he sees horses, eyes flashing with red furry and storm bursting. Du Bois uses sight to show John Jones’ reaction to having heard the song, “The Song of the Bird.” It was an African American song about power and enlightenment and after being rejected for new schools it shows that the song lifted his spirits. Ultimately it showed the power that songs had on African Americans, which is why Du Bois uses them in the beginning of each chapter/essay.

Sound Example:

“When spring came, and the birds twitted, and the stream ran proud and full,” (pg. 55). What makes the reader known this is an example of sound is that he hears the bird twitter. The use of the sound is important in this quote from Du Bois’ novel because it shows that although all this bad had happened when spring came change was going to be happening and Du Bois’ hearing the birds twittering was a way to show this.

Smell Example:

“I paused to scent the breeze as I had entered the Valley, it was strong but light.” (pg. 55) The reader can almost smell both the strong (almost meaning bad smell) scent of the flowers, but at the same time a bushel of light (almost meaning nice smell) scent of flowers that overshadowed the bad smell. He uses the sense of smell to show that when he went to travel to the Valley it was refreshing, light and it was his place to escape from the trouble in African American lifestyle at the time.



The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B Du Bois is not highly symbolic. But, there is one symbol that seems to be the key component in all the essays used in his entire novel, which is used to compile the book together; which is the “veil.” The “veil” that Du Bois refers to a number of times in the story is basically the barrier between black people and white people. The veil literally means being able to see out but not going through. An example of him using the veil in the novel is when he says, “The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card,-refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil,” (pg. 8). The “veil” is ultimately used to show that African Americans in the 20th century are in the veil and are limited to success. But those who can escape living in the “veil” are lucky. Which is shown when Du Bois says, “Sleep, then, child,-sleep till I sleep and waken to a baby voice and the ceaseless patter of little feet-above the Veil,” after his first child had died. In the end he conveys that African Americans are in the “veil” because they have low self esteem, they want materlialistic like money and items, and because they do not want to get a high level of education.

Another symbol he uses in his story is John Jones who symbolizes perseverance and the challenges/importance of educating African American students after the Civil War. The reader can tell that he is an important symbol in the story because he titles the chapter “of the coming of John.” This is about how he was a rambunctious teen and was kicked out of school and then became serious about school and about teaching. This passage that Du Bois writes is a prime example of this. “Thus he grew in body and soul, and with him his clothes seemed to grow and arrange themselves; coat sleeves got longer, cuffs appeared, and collars got less soiled. Now and then his boots shone, and a new dignity crept into his walk. And we who saw daily a new thoughtfulness growing in his eyes began to expect something of this plodding boy. Thus he passed out of the preparatory school into college, and we who watched him felt four more years of change, which almost transformed the tall, grave man who bowed to us commencement morning. He had left his queer thought-world and come back to a world of motion and of men. He looked now for the first time sharply about him, and wondered he had seen so little before. He grew slowly to feel almost for the first time the Veil that lay between him and the white world; he first noticed now the oppression that had not seemed oppression before, differences that erstwhile seemed natural, restraints and slights that in his boyhood days had gone unnoticed or been greeted with a laugh.” (pg. 166)

Figurative Language:

Figurative Language:

In the novel The Souls of Black Folk, W.E.B. Du Bois uses figurative language like personification and similes frequently in his novel in order to show the setting and create vivid images in ones mind about how the 20th century looked and felt. An example of personification is when he says “Atlanta slept dull and drowsy,” and “the sea cried to the hills and the hills answered the sea,” (pg. 58). He uses personification repeatedly in the novel to show a vivid descriptive image in the readers mind that Atlanta is dull morning and that the sea was rough and restless in the morning as well. He uses figurative language repeatedly in order to show how the setting is in the novel and to give the setting its own personality and give it feeling.

He uses this simile, “till the city rose like a widow and cast away her weeds, and toiled for her daily bread; toiled steadily, toiled cunningly,-perhaps with some bitterness, with a touch, of reclame,-and yet with real earnestness, and real sweat.” (pg.58). In order to show the reader that once the afternoon came and the sun had full resin in the city of Atlanta it came alive.

Figurative language has a significant role in Du Bois’ novel by helping the reader to get a vivid understanding of what the 20th century looks like from the beginning of the novel during the civil war where it was sad and run down. To happy and vibrant images at the end of the novel where African Americans were on the verge of getting their civil rights and becoming equal to the white people in the 20th century.

This form of figurative language is typical for Du Bois to use in his novel because he uses forma diction (no slang) in describing the setting and also uses complex sentences to give the reader a full perspective of the setting and what the 20th century looked liked.

Ironic Devices:

This novel written by Du Bois is not centered around ironic devices like many novels today. But there are some ironic devices/situations that are hidden throughout the novel and emerge through careful consideration.

The beginning of the story has a background history of W.E.B. Du Bois and it says he grew up in a well off family in an Anglo American neighborhood with lots of property. It also says he went to college and it wasn’t until he started teaching school in Tennessee that it became acquainted with how Africans Americans lived. This is ironic due to the fact that his view point for years was that they were the same, but he doesn’t realize until later on that he is different and decides to write a book on his observations. While it is strange that he is writing a novel based on his few experiences, the observations are true.

Another ironic device he uses is Socratic irony which is ignorance in order to expose weakness in another. He uses it to expose the fatal flaws in Booker T. Washington’s theory about getting rid of segregation. An example is when Du Bois bashes Booker T. Washington by saying, “This triple paradox in Mr. Washington’s position is the object of criticism by two classes of colored Americans. One class is spiritually descended from Toussaint the Savior, through Gabriel, Vesey, and Turner, and they represent the attitude of revolt and revenge; they hate the white south blindly and distrust the white race generally, and so far as they agree on definite action, think that the Negro’s only hope lies in emigration beyond the borders of the United States. And yet, by the irony of fate, nothing has more effectually made this program seem hopeless than the recent course of the United States toward weaker and darker peoples in the West Indies, Hawaii, and the Philippines,-for where in the world may we go and be safe from lying and brute force?” (pg. 42-43). It is ironic because one would think that because Booker T. Washington was a scientist and influential in the African American community, that he would also join and praise him. But instead he uses this quote to break down Washington’s theory about waiting for white people to get used to black people. So that he can build up his theory on getting emancipation now rather. This shows that he is not jump on the bandwagon and do what every one else is doing. Instead has his own opinion of what is right and wrong.


In this novel written by W.E.B. Du Bois the tone changes throughout the fourteen different essays. The tone changes fascination to anger/serious with the observations of the people that he encounters, but changes to joy when talking about his own experiences. In some essays that talks focus on actual people like Alexander Crummell and John Jones his tone is one of fascination and admiration. For example when talking about Alexander Crummell he says, “I spoke to him politely, then curiously then eagerly, as I began to feel the fineness of his character,-his calm courtesy, the sweetness of his strength, and his fair blending of hope and truth of life” (pg. 153-154). He uses words like “curiously,” and “fineness,” to show his fascination with him. While when talking about Booker T. Washington, and the slave masters the tone shifts to one that is more angry/serious, because they are considered the villains of the story who try to belittle African Americans or try to stop them from getting emancipated now. On page 41 and 42, there is an example that expressed his anger when he say that it is not fair that, “Mr. Washington distinctly asks that black people give up, at least for the present, three things,- First political power, second, insistence on civil rights, third, higher education of Negro youth…This triple paradox in Mr. Washington’s position is the object of criticism by two classes of colored Americans.” He uses words like “power,” “give up,” and “paradox,” to show his anger and frustration towards Washington. Finally, his tone changes to one that expresses joy/optimism when talking about his own life and how one can escape the veil. An example of a joyful/optimistic tone is when he talks about the death of his first child, “All that day and all that night there sat an awful gladness in my heart,-blame me not if I see the world this darkly through the veil,-and my soul whispers ever to me, saying, “Not dead, but escaped; not bond, but free,” (pg. 151). Du Bois shows his tone by using formal/plan diction and imagery with phrases like “not dead but escaped; not bond but free,” which lays out his feeling of joy clearly to the readers.


The central theme to the novel, The Souls of Black Folk, by W.E.B. Du Bois is that African Americans must break down the color line now between Black and Whites. African Americans must stop imitating the white society in order for them to be emancipated or they will be stuck in a segregated America. They will not be given the same opportunities and have no room to rise and become wealthy. An example of this universal theme is on page 130 when Du Bois says, “The centre of this spiritual turmoil has ever been the millions of black freedmen and their sons, whose destiny is so fatefully bound up with that of the nation” (pg. 129). This quote is basically saying that they people not just African Americans are so consumed in trying to keep up other people in the nation that they will not be going forward but rather backwards.

A minor theme is telling the reader the importance of African Americans getting a higher level of education. He expresses this b

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