Select two poems, one from Langston Hughes (suggestion: I, too Sing America) and one by Paul Dunbar (suggestion: We Wear the Mask) and discuss them in the context of double-consciousness and the veil, two of the most important concepts drawn from W. E. B. Du Bois's The Souls of Black Folk. Explain and discuss the connections between Du Bois's concepts and the two poems.

Both Langston Hughes's “I, Too, Sing America” and Paul Dunbar's “We Wear the Mask” deal with the concepts of veiling and double-consciousness as presented by W. E. B. Du Bois. Hughes's poem reveals the split as the speaker must eat in the kitchen and pretend to be happy about it. Dunbar's poem focuses on the difference between people's external presentation and internal experiences.

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To get started on this assignment, let's brainstorm about the ideas of double-consciousness and veiling in Langston Hughes's “I, Too, Sing America” and “Paul Dunbar's “We Wear the Mask.”

W. E. B. Du Bois once wrote, “It dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others; or like, mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut out from their world by a vast veil.” Langston Hughes picks up this theme in “I, Too, Sing America” when the speaker remarks that when company comes, he must eat in the kitchen because he is “the darker brother.” He is cut off from the white world by a veil, so to speak, hiding behind a door, in the kitchen where he cannot be seen. Yet he is determined that one day, he will eat at the table just like everyone else. He will tear down the veil and open the door, and no one will dare to tell him to eat in the kitchen any more.

Hughes also hints at the idea of a double-consciousness, an inner split often experienced by African Americans. The speaker pretends that eating in the kitchen doesn't bother him. He laughs and eats heartily and grows strong. Yet he is split, for his behavior does not match his feelings. He longs for people to see that he, too, is beautiful and is part of America. He longs for people to know what he is really like inside and out.

Paul Dunbar also deals with these concepts in “We Wear the Mask.” The idea of veiling is strong in this poem. The speaker's group—i.e., African Americans—wears a grinning mask that covers up their “torn and bleeding hearts.” They are separated from the rest of the world, cut off and forced to pretend they are something they aren't. The world does not see their “tears and sighs,” and only Jesus hears their cries. In the process, they become untrue to themselves, for they smile and sing to please the world, hiding their true selves. They are split into their external selves and their internal selves. They are doubled in their consciousness, “tortured souls” on the inside while they show only grins to the world, just like the world expects.

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