The Theme of the Veil in W.E.B. Du Bois' Souls of Black Folk

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"For now we see through a glass, darkly"

--Isiah 25:7

W.E.B. Du Bois's Souls of Black Folk, a collection of autobiographical

and historical essays contains many themes. There is the theme of souls and

their attainment of consciousness, the theme of double consciousness and the

duality and bifurcation of black life and culture; but one of the most striking

themes is that of "the veil." The veil provides a link between the 14 seemingly

unconnected essays that make up The Souls of Black Folk. Mentioned at least once

in most of the 14 essays it means that, "the Negro is a sort of seventh son,

born with a veil, and gifted with second sight in this American world, -a world

with yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself

through the revelation of the other world. It is a peculiar sensation, this

double consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the

eyes of others."Footnote1 The veil is a metaphor for the separation and

invisibility of black life and existence in America and is a reoccurring theme

in books abo ut black life in America.

Du Bois's veil metaphor, "In those somber forests of his striving his

own soul rose before him, and he saw himself, -darkly as though through a

veil"Footnote2, is a allusion to Saint Paul's line in Isiah 25:7, "For now we

see through a glass, darkly."Footnote3 Saint Paul's use of the veil in Isiah and

later in Second Corinthians is similar to Du Bois's use of the metaphor of the

veil. Both writers claim that as long as one is wrapped in the veil their

attempts to gain self-consciousness will fail because they will always see the

image of themselves reflect back to them by others. Du Bois applies this by

claiming that as long as on is behind the veil the, "world which yields him no

self-consciousness but who only lets him see himself through the revelation of

the other world."Footnote4 Saint Paul in Second Corinthians says the way to self

consciousness and an understanding lies in, "the veil being taken away, Now the

lord is the spirit and where the spirit of the lord is there is liberty." Du

Bois does not claim that transcending the veil will lead to a better

understanding of the lord but like Saint Paul he finds that only through

transcending "the veil" can people achieve liberty and gain self-consciousness.

The veil metaphor in Souls of Black Folk is symbolic of the

invisibility of blacks in America. Du Bois says that Blacks in America are a

forgotten people, "after the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the
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