The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois Essay - Critical Context (Masterplots II: Juvenile & Young Adult Biography Series)

W. E. B. Du Bois

Critical Context (Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Du Bois’ Darkwater: Voices from Within the Veil (1920) and Dusk of Dawn: An Essay Toward an Autobiography of a Race Concept (1940) are two of his autobiographical works that preceded and anticipated The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois. Much of the material in the latter volume reiterates the former two, as well as Du Bois’ collection of essays and sketches The Souls of Black Folk (1903). The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois also covers much of the same ground as August Meier’s landmark study Negro Thought in America, 18801915: Racial Ideologies in the Age of Booker T. Washington (1963) and offers an interesting comparison with Booker T. Washington’s autobiography, Up from Slavery (1901). Despite its weaknesses and lack of originality, however, Du Bois’ last autobiography, written at the end of his life, belongs in any library on race and politics in the United States.

What many reviewers found refreshing in The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois was part 1, which gives a personal view of Du Bois’ formative years. Martin Duberman commented in The New Republic on the richness and evocative power of Du Bois’ descriptive prose. On the other hand, he agreed with Irving Howe that the book’s weakest sections are Du Bois’ uncritical defenses of the Soviet and Maoist systems. These and other reviewers appreciated the insights offered into Du Bois’ personality and his rift with Washington, acknowledged the basic ironies and tensions that permeated his life and identity, and admired the remarkable lucidity and detail of the nonagenarian’s mind. None were dismissive of the book, and the abundance and depth of critical response attest to the respect that Du Bois earned through his life as a powerful intellectual and activist.