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.)