W. E. B. Du Bois

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Du Bois, W(illiam) E(dward) B(urghardt) (Vol. 1)

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Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 455

Du Bois, W(illiam) E(dward) B(urghardt) 1868–1963

Dr. Du Bois, a Black American, was a primary influence on Black intellectual thought for more than fifty years. He published many books, including novels, sociohistorical essays, biography, and autobiography. He edited the NAACP journal Crisis for more than twenty years.

DuBois' first novel is a literary hybrid. The author has one foot firmly anchored in the Romantic tradition, while with the other he is testing the swirling ideological currents of the early 20th century. Veblen and Norris, Spencer and Darwin, Marx and the muckrakers have all left their mark on the novel. But in spite of its 20th-century intellectual veneer, The Quest of the Silver Fleece is written in 19th-century idiom. This schizophrenia is strikingly revealed by a clashing diction, in which such lines as 'Bles, almost thou persuadest me" are followed in a few pages by "Hell, I thought you was a man … is this a new gag?" It is as if the novelist's new meanings cannot be contained by the old idiom; they strain against it, but it will not yield. The result of this bizarre union is something of a literary monstrosity.

Robert A. Bone, in his The Negro Novel in America, Yale University Press, revised edition, 1965, p. 45.

In both content and form, Du Bois's collection of essays [The Souls of Black Folk] belongs to a later period; it was by all standards a prophetic work, a harbinger of things to come. That America at large and black Americans in particular did not respond favorably to Du Bois's forthright and scathingly honest work is explained by the same historical factors which determined the fate of [earlier black writers]. White America was not ready to hear from the pen of a young, militant black American that the problem of the twentieth century was the problem of "the color line." Nor was America ready to respond favorably to Du Bois's scrupulously accurate portrayal of the hypocrisy, hostility, and brutality of white America toward black America. The black leadership, moreover, under the banner of Booker T. Washington, was willing to accord but little notice to a young man who thought that black Americans had as much right in the opera house as in the factory, and as much right to handle Aeschylus as an awl. Du Bois's work, in short, did not receive nearly the praise it deserved.

But Du Bois could justifiably have given the answer of the professor who when asked why he was always on the wave of the future responded, "Because I create the wave." Du Bois's work, both literary and social, truly created the wave of the future.

Houston A. Baker, Jr., in his Black Literature in America, McGraw, 1971, pp. 6-7.

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Critical Context


Du Bois, W(illiam) E(dward) B(urghardt) (Vol. 13)