Dunbar And Paul Laurence Dunbar's Meanion Of Black Freedom

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Among W.E.B. Du Bois’ contributions to black liberation was his psycho- philosophical notion of double-consciousness, or twoness, which Du Bois used to explain African-American strife to his largely white readership. A contemporary of Du Bois, late 19th century poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, described by Cornell English professor George B. Hutchinson as “the poet laureate of black America,” depicted the African-American’s struggle in terms similar to Du Bois’. This paper analyzes Du Bois’ understanding of black twoness and then applies twoness’ alleged effects to Dunbar’s poetry, ultimately attempting to reveal Dunbar and Du Bois’ mutual conception of black bondage. Du Bois’ twoness ascends from the conflicting duality of African-American self-consciousness.…show more content…
The most readily apparent similarity between the two is that both render their captive immobile; the bird and the African- American are confined. Beyond this immobility, more telling commonalities appear vis-à-vis the nature of the captives. Dunbar’s captive is the bird, and the nature of a bird is to fly. While the bird retains its intrinsic ability to fly – its aerodynamic anatomy remains – the surrounding cage prevents it from externalizing its intrinsic inclination. Hence, the bird’s anguish follows from the suppression of its natural tendency. Du Bois’ paralyzed African-American is in precisely the same position as the caged bird. According to Du Bois, just as the bird’s inclination is to fly, the African- American’s natural inclination, his “nature,” is to reconcile the two chief cultures he embodies. As with the caged bird, the African-American cannot externalize its inherent goal in the face of society’s direct opposition to that goal. In the sense that both are unable to externalize their internal urges, the bird and the African- American are…show more content…
Like the bird, the African-American’s liberation will forever retain the exhaustion and suffering of his once caged self. One distinction between Du Bois’ writing and Dunbar’s poetry is that the latter can be applied to all subjugated peoples whereas the former applies explicitly to African-Americans (of course, that does not make its message exclusive). Dunbar’s caged bird is a symbol not just of black strife; it is a symbol of all whose nature is suppressed, a motif as trite and true as any. Nevertheless, to draw together the works of Du Bois and Dunbar is to more comprehensively understand the literature and rhetoric of black
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