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Spring 2018 Undergraduate English Courses: Twentieth Century

358:363 The Literary Afterlife of The Souls of Black Folk

01  TTH7  CAC  19484  KERNAN  SC-101

 This course can fulfill 20th Century and/or African American requirements toward the English major.

The Literary Afterlife of The Souls of Black Folk

In his work The Souls of Black Folk (1903), W.E.B. Du Bois famously declared that the “the problem of the twentieth century is the problem of the color line.  Moreover, he characterized the “history of the American Negro” as a history of strife that stemmed, in part, from a psychological condition that he identified as “double consciousness”:

“After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of seventh son, born with a veil, and gifted with second-sight in this American world,--a world which yields him no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world.  It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others, of measuring one's soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.  One ever feels his twoness,--an American, a Negro; two souls, two thoughts, two unreconciled strivings; two warring ideals in one dark body, whose dogged strength alone keeps it from being torn asunder. The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,--this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self.” (Forethought)   

This course is dedicated to what might be labeled the literary legacy of Du Bois’s The Souls of Black Folk.  In other words, we will begin with an in-depth analysis of Du Bois’s text and then proceed to examine the extent to which several ‘canonical’ works penned by African American authors--including (but not limited to) James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, Amiri Baraka, Lorraine Hansberry—can be fruitfully read as participants in the ‘afterlife’ of Du Bois’s arguments.  We will consider questions like: How have African American artists portrayed concepts like “double consciousness”?  How has African American fiction echoed, augmented, or troubled many of Du Bois’s central claims?  How have African American writers used art itself as a means to destroy (or remedy) the condition of “double consciousness.”  In addition to their engaged participation, students are required to take weekly reading quizzes, to complete a midterm examination, and to submit one final paper.