The Souls of Black Folk Essential Quotes by Theme: Identity

W. E. B. Du Bois

Essential Quotes by Theme: Identity

Essential Passage 1: Chapter 1

…I remember well when the shadow swept across me. I was a little thing, away up in the hills of New England, where the dark Housatonic winds between Hoosac and Taghkanic to the sea. In a wee wooden schoolhouse, something put it into the boys’ and girls’ heads to buy gorgeous visiting-cards—ten cents a package—and exchange. The exchange was merry, till one girl, a tall newcomer, refused my card,--refused it peremptorily, with a glance. Then it dawned upon me with a certain suddenness that I was different from the others or like mayhap, in heart and life and longing, but shut from their world by a vast veil. I had thereafter no desire to tear down that veil, to creep though; I held all beyond it in common contempt, and lived above it in a region of blue sky and great wandering shadows. That sky was bluest when I could beat my mates at examination time, or beat them at a footrace, or even beat their stringy heads. Alas, with the years all this fine contempt began to fade; for the worlds I long for, and all their dazzling opportunities, were theirs, not mine.


Du Bois reminisces about his childhood in Massachusetts. Having been born in the North, Du Bois has not experienced the kind of racism that was prevalent in the South at that time. At an integrated school, he encounters his first experience of discrimination. The children had purchased small calling cards (such as adults left at homes they visited) which they could exchange with each other. In trying to exchange cards with one of the white girls, Du Bois is rebuffed when she refuses his card. It was at that moment that he first felt his “differentness” due to his skin color. Without a word, Du Bois accepted it, but built up a resentment against his white...

(The entire section is 1455 words.)