Wed Du Bois's Souls of Black Folks Essay

Submitted By se7ena
Words: 2353
Pages: 10

An Education
The process of life-writing, or describing one’s personal experience, is a complex and muti-layered endeavor, especially if writing to articulate a certain point. W.E.B. Du Bois uses his personal memories as well as historical evidence and figurative language in his arguments about the education system in the South. The first black man to earn a doctorate from Harvard University, Du Bois was in a privileged position and used his success to demonstrate that while he may have been able to attain an education, thousands of others were not. Although The Souls of Black Folks does not fit into just one type of life-writing, the specific literary tactics Du Bois employs are significant because they aid him in his argument. By writing in a memoir style, using metaphors as well as historical evidence, Du Bois is able to be both a participant in his argument, as well as an objective outsider, effectively revealing the lack of educational opportunities and racial oppression of black people in the Jim Crow South. In the chapter “Of the Meaning of Progress” Du Bois uses mainly a memoir style, discussing his personal experience as a teacher and detailing his relationships with his students as well as their individual hopes and dreams. While Du Bois uses the memoir style in this particular chapter, his style changes throughout the novel, at times becoming more fact based and objective, lending a distance to his narrative. Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, in “Reading Autobiography” define memoir as “autobiographical works characterized by density of language and self-reflexivity about the writing process, yoking the author’s standing as a professional writer with the work’s status as an aesthetic object” (Smith and Watson, 5). By being both an active member in the experience and a transcriber of past events, Du Bois navigates a complex relationship with his text. Du Bois frequently refers to his simultaneous distance and participation in his own writing and experience, specifically in his mention of his return to visit his former schoolchildren many years later. Although he himself was present in the story he is writing, he also removes himself from the narrative through time and his analytical use of the story as evidence of inequality. By writing in a memoir style, Du Bois is able to give both personal experience and a sense of distance and subjectivity, offering more validity to his arguments because of the time passed since the actual events occurred, and his analytical perspective of the narrative. Du Bois uses the metaphor of the “Veil” in his memoir to relay his experiences teaching rural Southern children. He combines both the metaphor of the “Veil” (a widely employed symbol to represent the distance between white people and black people) with his own, more literal, memory. His first encounter with a little girl who would not take his calling card marks the first time he noticed he was not like the others: “Then it dawned on me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like them perhaps in heart and life and longing, but shut out from behind their world by a vast veil” (Du Bois 32). Although alike in “heart and life and longing” Du Bois suddenly understands that he and the little girl will never be equal, merely because of his darker skin. The veil that falls between Du Bois and the little girl will also continue to disadvantage him later in life. Du Bois remarks how the men who graduated Fisk College believed that they had transcended the Veil and passed into a land of opportunity: “I was a Fisk student then, and all Fisk men thought that Tennessee—beyond the Veil—was their alone” (Du Bois, 47). However, he then describes how even after being offered a job as a respected teacher, he feels the distance between himself and the white school commissioner: “But even then fell the awful shadow of the Veil, for they ate [dinner] first, then I—alone” (Du Bois, 47). The Veil is employed throughout