To what extent and how does the "double consciousness" of the passing figure either "tear the passing figure asunder" or help to suggest viable solutions to the problems in America?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Double consciousness is a split self due to racialization. As DuBois states, double consciousness is "two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings," and these two sides lead to the potential tearing of the figure. The main effect of double consciousness is that African Americans don't get to see themselves as a singular person; they instead see themselves 1) as how white people see them and 2) how they are seen outside of race. These two images of themselves can lead to the two outcomes the question suggests: a splitting or a solution. The solution would come from one's ability to see themselves from an outside perspective better than that of a white American so they could viably shape themselves into a positive image. As DuBois was very against Booker T. Washington (who advised African Americans to play white people's games and slowly show they were worthy), I doubt he suggests double consciousness is a positive. This means double consciousness is more likely to tear someone apart, as they see how other people could look on them in such a racially defined way.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

"Double consciousness is the sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others." This dual identity of being "Negro" and American doesn't allow blacks to have another source upon which to base their identity. This results in a "veil" between the black man's world and the white world that establishes blacks as both American citizens and American victims. Blacks brought their former slave status with them into American society, along with the double identity of being both "free" and "unequal." To achieve freedom, progress for blacks should include economic success, education, the right to vote, and recognition of their spirituality, but never were all of these issues addressed at the same time. This "veil" taught blacks in rural communities to accept that what they have is good enough, resulting in the world asking little of them and rurual blacks giving little to the world. Urban blacks can attain material wealth, but they must turn their backs on the spirituality that distinguishes them as black people.

Overall, I believe DuBois believes that double consciousness does not offer any solutions for blacks, but only by recognizing its existence and getting rid of it can we come up with solutions. Only when blacks achieving self-respect and respect in their own communities becomes the same as achieving respect in white society can real progress be measured.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Dubois characterizes the “veil” as a “gift” that provides the American “Negro” with a “double consciousness,” which results in a “twoness” of “unreconciled strivings” and “warring ideals” between a black identity on one hand and the dominant white European culture on the other. It is important that, although he describes the double consciousness as a kind of alienation, he first characterizes it as a “gift.” While assimilation or separatism might solve the alienation that such duality breeds (and these were the alternatives presented by other black intellectuals, both in Dubois’s time and later), Dubois refuses the either/or nature of these options by suggesting that double consciousness, if embraced, can increase the insight—the ability of the Negro to know—both himself and the larger culture in which he lives. This is why he calls it a “gift.” His argument, then, is neither to surrender his black self in favor of the white culture nor to refuse the white culture to preserve his black self; instead, DuBois argues that the Negro should engage in the struggle to lift the veil that creates the duality to begin with—to erase the contradiction by acknowledging both identities. In this way, the “double consciousness” results not in alienation but in an expanded way of knowing the world, which can in turn transform the problem of the color line.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial