Illustration of W. E. B. Du Bois

The Souls of Black Folk

by W. E. B. Du Bois

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Student Question

What is the significance of the final sentence in Chapter XIII "Of the Coming of John" from The Souls of Black Folk?

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The final sentence of Du Bois' story is significant on a couple of levels. In the final sentence, John has found a world that is "above" or "beyond" the "veil."  Just like Du Bois' infant son who died, the experience of transcendence is something that falls upon John in the final frames of the narrative.  The external world around him is closing in on him.  It brings with it the sound of "the tramp of horses" and "the murmur of angry men."  This is a moment where race and ethnicity, along with the prejudice that is intrinsic to both for African- Americans, is meant to define him.

Yet, this external experience does not entirely define John.  At this moment- an instant where his world is coming to an end- John experiences an internal reality that enables him to transcend this condition.  Going "beyond" or "above the veil," John's mind is fixated on the experience of the theatre in New York.  The humming of "The Song of the Bride" is where John's mind is, and in transcending the condition of racial discrimination, he is reminded of the lyrics:  "Freudig gefuhrt, ziehet dahin."  The meaning of this is translated to something along the lines of "joyfully guided, move along."  It is at this moment that John becomes aware of being "beyond the veil."  The condition of racism in America is one in which those trapped by it are forced to live a life within it.  Yet, Du Bois makes the argument that if one can transcend it, and can live beyond it, there is an experience of being that is no longer limited by it.  John knows this.  In what amounts to be the final moments of his narrative, John experiences something that is "beyond the veil" in the appreciation of art and understanding denied to people of color.  It is with this transcendence that "the world whistled in his ears."  This is a condition in which transcending "the veil" has enabled John to experience the world, in all of its complexity and in all of its forms.  The acknowledgement that John's life of imposed racism does not have to define his being and his view of himself is where he transcends it.  This enables him to experience "the world," one that "whistled in his ears."  The final line is a statement of transcendence, making it highly significant in Du Bois' construction of race in America.

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