The Different Conceptions of the Veil in The Souls of Black Folk

"For now we see through a glass, darkly"

-Isiah 25:7

W.E.B. Du Bois\'s Souls of Black Folk, a collection of autobiographical
and historical essays contains many themes. There is the theme of souls and
their attainment of consciousness, the theme of double consciousness and the
duality and bifurcation of black life and culture; but one of the most striking
themes is that of "the veil." The veil provides a link between the 14 seemingly
unconnected essays that make up The Souls of Black Folk. Mentioned at least once
in most of the 14 essays it means that, "the Negro is a sort of seventh son,
born with a veil, and gifted with second sight in this American world, -a world
with 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."Footnote1 The veil is a metaphor for the separation and
invisibility of black life and existence in America and is a reoccurring theme
in books abo ut black life in America.
Du Bois\'s veil metaphor, "In those somber forests of his striving his
own soul rose before him, and he saw himself, -darkly as though through a
veil"Footnote2, is a allusion to Saint Paul\'s line in Isiah 25:7, "For now we
see through a glass, darkly."Footnote3 Saint Paul\'s use of the veil in Isiah and
later in Second Corinthians is similar to Du Bois\'s use of the metaphor of the
veil. Both writers claim that as long as one is wrapped in the veil their
attempts to gain self-consciousness will fail because they will always see the
image of themselves reflect back to them by others. Du Bois applies this by
claiming that as long as on is behind the veil the, "world which yields him no
self-consciousness but who only lets him see himself through the revelation of
the other world."Footnote4 Saint Paul in Second Corinthians says the way to self
consciousness and an understanding lies in, "the veil being taken away, Now the
lord is the spirit and where the spirit of the lord is there is liberty." Du
Bois does not claim that transcending the veil will lead to a better
understanding of the lord but like Saint Paul he finds that only through
transcending "the veil" can people achieve liberty and gain self-consciousness.
The veil metaphor in Souls of Black Folk is symbolic of the
invisibility of blacks in America. Du Bois says that Blacks in America are a
forgotten people, "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."Footnote5 The invisibility of Black existence in America is one of the
reasons why Du Bois writes Souls of Black Folk in order to elucidate the
"invisible" history and strivings of Black Americans, "I have sought here to
sketch, in vague, uncertain outline, the spiritual world in which ten thousand
Americans live and strive."Footnote6 Du Bois in each of the following chapters
tries to manifest the strivings of Black existence from that of the
reconstruction period to the black spirituals and the stories of rural black
children that he tried to educate. Du Bois in Souls of Black Folk is grappling
with trying to establish some sense of history and memory for Black Americans,
Du Bois struggles in the pages of the book to prevent Black Americans from
becoming a Seventh Son invisible to the rest of the world, hidden behind a veil
of prejudice, "Hear my Cry, O God the reader vouch safe that this my book fall
not still born into the world-wilderness. Let there spring, Gentle one, from its
leaves vigor of thought and thoughtful deed to reap the harvest
wonderful."Footnote7 The invisibility of Black existence is a recurring theme
in other books about Black history. In Raboteau\'s book slave religion is called,
"the invisible institution of the antebellum South."Footnote8 Raboteau tries to
uncover and bring to light the religious practices of Black slaves, he tried to
bring their history out of the veil. Rabatoeu writes how religion for slaves was
a way in which, "slaves maintained their identity as persons despite a system
bent on reducing them to a subhuman level... In the midst of slavery religion
was for the enslaved a space of meaning, freedom, and transcendence."Footnote9
Because slave religion was an invisible institution hidden by a veil from white
slave masters it