Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Master of Arts


Theory and Criticism


Vanderheide, John


This project examines American scholar W.E.B.’s DuBois’ idea of “double consciousness”, from his book The Souls of Black Folk (1903). The idea of “double consciousness” has and continues to be utilized by Black scholars and artists in literary, theoretical, and psychological contexts, some of which I hope my paper will adequately survey. I begin by examining “double consciousness” from the perspective of particulars by understanding Du Bois’s original idea and the specificities of the American context he himself was a part, considering the legacy of slavery. Then, by focusing primarily on writers such as Frantz Fanon, Richard Wright and Paul Gilroy, succeeding Du Bois, the paper will discuss the various subtleties of “doubleness” present in these works and how they can be cross-referenced to other historical and cultural movements. Framing this discussion in light of “double consciousness” as a “gift” or potential ability versus as a purely restrictive experience demonstrates how the antimonies of “doubleness” works to disprove specific kinds of dualism. Inadvertently the paper will advocate the need for a change in dialectics to centralize Black notions of Being into an academic tradition that has historically limited the definition of humanity.

Summary for Lay Audience

This paper attempts to explore an idea created by activist and academic W.E.B. Du Bois that was written in his 1903 book, The Souls of Black Folk. The idea, called “double consciousness” describes the experience of living in racist society where one feels both “Black” and “American”. On the one hand, the individual is made aware of their race through being perceived in a certain way by mainstream American society which considers “whiteness” the default. On the other hand, they had only known life in America and had been disconnected from their heritage. Using this idea, the paper looks at how Du Bois used the idea in his life and work and the way it was adapted by other thinkers after him. I discuss how some see "double consciousness" as an ability with great power but at the same time an experience that can greatly limit one’s freedom. In light of this, I look at and consider the history that “double consciousness” is tied to (Slavery) and how this particular experience is related to other kinds of oppression.

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Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.