The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois Analysis

W. E. B. Du Bois

Form and Content

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois traces the ninety-year journey of a historian, sociologist, poet, editor, lecturer, organizer, essayist, propagandist, civil rights activist, humanitarian, statesman, and advocate for peace. The book chronicles this life from Du Bois’s humble beginnings in Great Barrington, a small New England town, to halls of government, palaces of royalty, and international forums. Du Bois plotted a course few would even dare to dream, much less live. His impact can be seen from America to Africa and Asia. Through it all, amid praise and damnation, pride and humiliation, hope and despair, Du Bois remained singularly directed toward confronting and defeating the “color line.” This autobiography provides a rare glimpse into the life and times of Du Bois; only through this vehicle can one begin to understand what can only be termed an American paradox.

It was neither vanity nor apology that led Du Bois to write his autobiography. The intent was an honest attempt to record and critically assess his life. Although he acknowledged that “the final answer to these questions, time and posterity must make,” he nevertheless felt it his duty “to contribute whatever enlightenment” he could. “This book then is the Soliloquy of an old man on what he dreams his life has been as he sees it slowly drifting away: and what he would like others to believe.”

Much of the text in this “soliloquy” appears in...

(The entire section is 528 words.)

Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

The Autobiography of W. E. B. Du Bois: A Soliloquy on Viewing My Life from the Last Decade of Its First Century is at once a memoir, a travelogue, a political essay, a sociohistorical record, and a documentary anthology. During Du Bois’ nine decades, he was often at the center of political and social controversy, and his autobiography is a narrative of his involvement in public life and the development of his ideas.

The book is divided into three parts. Part 1, consisting of five chapters, is an eastbound political travelogue in 19581959 focusing on Du Bois’ devotion to world socialism. Occasional personal facts are included, but these chapters are predominantly thoughts and observations on life in various nations of Europe and Asia, including virtual paeans to the Soviet and Chinese economic systems. Following part 1 is a short interlude in which Du Bois identifies the purpose of his “Soliloquy” as the promotion of communism.

Part 2, consisting of fourteen chapters, is the main body of the autobiography. It traces Du Bois’ life from his ancestors’ arrival in America in the early eighteenth century through the events of his own life in the 1940’s. The chapters are divided according to the places where Du Bois lived and worked or the specific issues of his career. Occasional forward and backward shifts in otherwise sequential chronology are accomplished simply and clearly. The focus is on his public, intellectual...

(The entire section is 434 words.)


(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

DeMarco, Joseph P. The Social Thought of W. E. B. Du Bois. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 1983. Incisive exploration of Du Bois’s philosophy.

Du Bois, W. E. B. Du Bois: Writings. Edited by Nathan Huggins. New York: Literary Classics of the United States, 1986. Provides one of the most complete compilations of Du Bois’s writings, including his first book and essays and speeches that cover the period from 1890 to 1958.

Du Bois, W. E. B. W. E. B. Du Bois: On Sociology and the Black Community. Edited by Dan S. Green and Edwin D. Driver. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978. Discusses the sociological contributions of W. E. B. Du Bois. The introduction provides a summary of his life and times. The remainder of the text consists of essays and excerpts from works dealing with sociology, the black community, black families, black culture, and race relations.

Essien-Udom, E. U. Black Nationalism: A Search for an Identity in America. New York: Dell Books, 1964. Identifies Du Bois as one of the major black intellectuals responsible for initiating pan-Africanism, a movement seeking the political unification of Africa led by African Americans. Argues that Du Bois differed from others of the period in that he called for full political participation and racial unity to respond to racism....

(The entire section is 478 words.)