site map site map

Primary Source
"The Souls of Black Folk" [1904 Essay]
W. E. B. Du Bois

The Independent, Vol.57, No.2920 (November 17, 1904): p.1152.
Online Sources:
1. The full text of the SBFI is available at Google Books: p.1152.
2. The SBFI is also viewable at the Hathi Trust Digital Library: p.1152.
Robert Williams's Notes:
1. W.E.B. Du Bois penned a self-appraisal of his 1903 book The Souls of Black Folk and published it in The Independent of November 1904. This self-review is interesting, especially when compared to the reviewed written by other authors (some of which are linked on the Souls web page at this site: reviews).

2. One can examine the SBFI by means of Retextualizer, which is a digital humanities project designed to rearrange the text so as to provide new opportunities for textual reinter­pre­ta­tion(s):​dhp/​retext-sbfi.html .

3. The essay is presented below verbatim and in its entirety.

— Robert W. Williams, Ph.D.  [Bio]

The Souls of Black Folk
By Professor W. E. Burghardt DuBois
One who is born with a cause is pre-destined to a certain narrowness of view, and at the same time to some clearness of vision within his limits with which the world often finds it well to reckon. My book has many of the defects and some of the advantages of this situation. Because I am a negro [sic] I lose something of that breadth of view which the more cosmopolitan races have, and with this goes an intensity of feeling and conviction which both wins and repels sympathy, and now enlightens, now puzzles.
The Souls of Black Folk is a series of fourteen essays written under various circumstances and for different purposes during a period of seven years. It has, therefore, considerable, perhaps too great, diversity. There are bits of history and biography, some description of scenes and persons, something of controversy and criticism, some statistics and a bit of story-telling. All this leads to rather abrupt transitions of style, tone and viewpoint and, too, without doubt, to a distinct sense of incompleteness and sketchiness.
On the other hand, there is a unity in the book, not simply the general unity of the larger topic, but a unity of purpose in the distinctively subjective note that runs in each essay. Through all the book runs a personal and intimate tone of self-revelation. In each essay l sought to speak from within — to depict a world as we see it who dwell therein. In thus giving up the usual impersonal and judicial attitude of the traditional author I have lost in authority but gained in vividness. The reader will, I am sure, feel in reading my words peculiar warrant for setting his judgment against mine, but at the same time some revelation of how the world looks to me cannot easily escape him.
This is not saying that the style and workmanship of the book make its meaning altogether clear. A clear central message it has conveyed to most readers, I think, but around this center there has lain a penumbra of vagueness and half-veiled allusion which has made these and others especially impatient. How far this fault is in me and how far it is in the nature of the message I am not sure. It is difficult, strangely difficult, to translate the finer feelings of men into words. The Thing itself sits clear before you; but when you have dressed it out in periods it seems fearfully uncouth and inchoate. Nevertheless, as the feeling is deep the greater the impelling force to seek to express it. And here the feeling was deep.
In its larger aspects the style is tropical — African. This needs no apology. The blood of my fathers spoke through me and cast off the English restraint of my training and surroundings. The resulting accomplishment is a matter of taste. Sometimes I think very well of it and sometimes I do not.
[End of the original text.]

Please consider a contribution to the upkeep of <>.
PayPal offers a secure way for you to help me with my goal to find and present more works by and about W.E.B. Du Bois. Thank you.
Robert Williams