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W. E. B. Du Bois wrote The Souls of Black Folk to bring attention to race, culture, and the experience of being black in America nearly have a century after the Civil War. This work is addresses various aspects of African-American culture and it discusses the historical and current problematic relationships between black and white cultures.
One of Du Bois' most studied concept is the "double-consciousness" which he proposes in The Souls of Black Folk as a dilemma of African-American identity. An African-American is faced with conforming to, or rebelling from, white notions of what an African-American identity should be; and he/she is faced with constructing a notion of African-American identity from a black perspective. Du Bois recognizes this dilemma and seeks to find a way for the black individual to assume an identity that is genuinely black and American, thus establishing a unity with other African-Americans and all Americans as a whole.
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 twoness, -- 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.
These "warring ideals" are, in effect, two conflicting identities. This conflict is the individual embodiment, mentally, of the racial divide. Thus, Du Bois' suggests that racial strife is played out in society and in the African-American's individual consciousness.
In discussing other aspects of African-American culture, Du Bois also analyzes American history and supposes what progress can and should be made in order to move towards a national reality of racial equality.
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