There is a double-consciousness, according to W.E Burghardt Du Bois, in which we view ourselves through a veil. Underneath of this veil is the true self. The person that we are in our purest state. The veil itself, however, is how society sees us and our realization of that projection. Looking in a mirror, both layers can be seen. However, the true self is still covered, muddled, unclear beneath the sheer outer shell of expectation. In her poem “Coal”, Audre Lorde alludes to this concept through the dual image of a piece of coal and a diamond. As a black woman, Lorde only transforms from coal to diamond when she embraces her blackness as coal and, ironically, rejects the societal pressure to conform by speaking her words and embracing that she is black and coal.
In the beginning, Lorde equates herself with a piece of coal. She says that she is “the total black”(2068). As a piece of coal, she is black both inside and out. Being outwardly black, she may still be oppressed by the society around her, her identity being engulfed by the world. In the state of coal, she is merely “being spoken from the earth’s inside”(2068). Words would be stifled by the surrounding layers of dirt that engulf her.
As coal, Lorde is susceptible to the double-consciousness described by Dubois. The poem begins with an “I”, and continues in the second line to say “is the total black”(2068). She separates herself from the total black here, indicating that her true self is not necessarily within that “total black”(2068). She also separates herself from the bad grammar associated with illiteracy that characterizes many black communities. The total black, is not Lorde herself, but in fact,...
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...ry occurs when Lorde says “At this point in time, I believe that women carry within ourselves the possibility for fusion of these two approaches so necessary for survival, and we come closest to this combination in our poetry” (Lorde 2210).
Thus, through further exploration of Lorde as a person, new insight is given to the poem “Coal”. The poem also inadvertently raises questions about other poems when upheld as an example for comparison to elucidate Lorde’s feelings about double-consciousness. This greater understanding and discourse on the subject of double-consciousness is vital to understanding the poem “Coal” because it is vital to the identity of Audre Lorde as a person. Since her writing is almost exclusively and scrutinizingly about herself, learning about the broader topics and events in Lorde’s life are intrinsic to the specific poem of “Coal”.
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