"Double consciousness" was a term coined by W. E. B. Dubois, in an 1897 article entitled "Strivings of the Negro People." It refers to the phenomenon of experiencing one's self-awareness as encompassing what others think, thus creating a sense of identity that is divided into multiple parts. Dubois describes it in part:
“It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity. One ever feels his two-ness, an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife- this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost."
In Dutchman, the concept of double consciousness as it relates to self-consciousness is established early on before the dialogue begins, as Clay is described as being self-conscious. He sees Lula smiling at him, and smiles back, "without
in." This moment is a harbinger of what is to come: Lula speaks frankly and provocatively to Clay, trying to draw out his authentic self, but ends up making him feel embarrassed when she speaks in a sexually aggressive way.
The concept of "manhood" mentioned by Dubois is also mentioned several times in the play, brought up by Lula and described as their main topic of conversation. Lula attempts to expose the various facets of Clay's identity, including his manhood and his pretentious attempts to appear intellectual. In trying to use stereotypes and racist language to draw Clay out, she angers him and his resulting outburst appears to provoke her to violence. His double consciousness is thereby exposed as a lie, and she manages to gain the support of other train passengers in covering up her murder of Clay. It is an allegorical act meant to sum up the difficulty and irony of existing with this form of double consciousness in America. The play, written in 1964, the height of Civil Rights unrest, was ahead of its time in catalyzing the conversation about race via the literature of the theatre.