An Overview of African-American Slavery Issues and Inequalities in The Souls of Black Folk by Du Bois

In the text “The Souls of Black Folk”, Du Bois writes about the inequalities that African Americans faced shortly after slavery had been abolished. He uses his experiences as an African American to further elaborate on the way that he was treated in society. Du Bois writes about a duality of African Americans in that society, as well as there being a veil that separated them from White society. He uses the metaphor of being on the other side of the veil to explain the inequalities faced by many African Americans, including him, in being able to seek good education, or having access to a better life through education.

Du Bois begins his text by recalling his years as a schoolboy. During that time he writes about his innocence and sense of drive to be better than his classmates. He then recounts the experience that showed him that he was different from the other children when a classmate of his refused to take his card.

He describes this experience as a shadow that swept across, making him realize for the first time that he was on the other side of the veil. It is after that experience that he realizes that he did not have the same opportunities as his classmates: “I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination-time, or beat them at a foot-race, or even beat their stringy heads.

Get quality help now
Writer Lyla

Proficient in: The Souls Of Black Folk

5 (876)

“ Have been using her for a while and please believe when I tell you, she never fail. Thanks Writer Lyla you are indeed awesome ”

+84 relevant experts are online
Hire writer

Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the words I longed for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine” He characterizes the opportunities as a blue sky which he realizes is out of his reach because he is different. He was covered by a shadow cast over him by the way that he was treated in society, putting him on the other side of the veil.

Despite access to limited opportunities, he is able to succeed because he is an intelligent boy. However, Du Bois recounts the manner in which he was able to succeed being on the African American side of the veil versus a White boy, born of privilege, who simply had access to better opportunities because he was born into it, who had to do very little in comparison to succeed. Du Bois also identifies a duality in African Americans at the time; they were ripped from their homes and brought to a new land, which was now their home. They could reject neither land, as both were now a part of their identity. There is conflict in the way that they perceive themselves and the way that they are perceived by the White world around them: “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.” Du Bois writes about the struggle in the African American community to reconcile this duality within them and become a self-aware man, able to balance his duality by coming to terms with the way that the world sees them and how that affects the way that they see themselves.

In the final chapter of this text, Du Bois writes about the tale of two Johns, one White and one Black. In their stories the story of the John who is White is one of privilege. He is born to a judge and is able to go to Princeton as a result. However, his counterpart who is born to a Black family and has to go to an unknown school and struggle to find his drive to succeed at school as he is kicked out once. In these two stories Du Bois clearly marks the differences in the two Johns’ lives and what they have to overcome in order to succeed. In the Black John, Du Bois expresses his struggle to conquer his duality and cross over to the White side of the veil. However, he is unable to and in the end is lynched for trying to break out of his given place in society.

Du Bois uses his experiences to retell a story that clearly shows the inequalities faced by African Americans in the search for their place in the world after they are given “freedom” from slavery. He displays, in the characters, the struggle to accept oneself in a White society, and the struggle to succeed in breaking out of a prescribed mold. Du Bois characterizes this being on opposite sides of a veil. He ultimately shows that the duality of African Americans cannot be reconciled in the society they currently reside in, and trying to cross over to the other side of the veil will ultimately result in failure.


Cite this page

An Overview of African-American Slavery Issues and Inequalities in The Souls of Black Folk by Du Bois. (2021, Dec 27). Retrieved from

Let’s chat?  We're online 24/7