What is the double consciousness in Leopold Senghor's "Black Woman?"

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literaturenerd | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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Double consciousness, a term defined by W.E.B. Du Bois, refers to the challenges African Americans face when trying to embrace the European culture while not forgetting their African roots and heritage. According to the eNotes page defining the themes and meaning within "Black Woman," Senghor's poetry illuminated the African woman. Essentially,his poems "glorified" the natural beauty of the African woman. 

Double consciousness is sen within "Black Woman" through Senghor's recognition of her beauty. Far too often, white (Anglo or European) women wee deemed as the preeminent image of beauty. Here though, Sanghor raises up the African woman as beautiful. While the poem does not speak directly to the conflict an African American/ African feels when acclimating to European culture, the poem does illuminate the beauty of the African woman on the level of a typical white woman. The double consciousness lies in the beauty of the black woman surpassing that of the white woman through identification of what beauty is. Therefore, Sanghor's black woman proves to be beautiful enough to compare to the beauty of a white woman (the constant standard of beauty). 

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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The double consciousness that Senghor describes is a condition in which "woman" means different elements. Each element helps to define what it means to be a woman.  Senghor's double consciousness rejects the idea that women are simplistic and monolithic.  For example, Senghor describes "black woman" as a maternal figure:  "In your shadow I have grown up; the/ gentleness of your hands was laid over my eyes."  This construction of woman is a nurturing one, caregiver that helps to facilitate growth and life.  Another aspect of this consciousness is how Senghor describes woman as a lover, someone with whom life is to be spent:  "Firm-fleshed ripe fruit, sombre raptures/of black wine, mouth making lyrical my mouth/Savannah stretching to clear horizons."  This construction of consciousness sees women in another aspect of identity.  

Another way to examine the double consciousness presented is to view the role of woman as a reflection of African identity.  "Black woman" could be seen as Africa, herself.  In this, the double consciousness is both as a woman and larger identity of Africa, in general.  Senghor equates woman with the African notion of identity, as seen in the "promised land" element of the poem.  Double consciousness exists in the poem as both woman and something larger. This suggests that to be a woman is to embrace both a natural identity and something collective that gives life to so many, as in her personification as Africa.

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