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The Souls of Black Folk by W. E. B. Du Bois is an embodiment of classic American literature that persists in exerting its influence upon the contemporary world. It has been recognized as an idea changing work in sociology and forms a cornerstone of African American literature. The book constitutes of fourteen chapters that serve to epitomize the influence of racism on the American society during the beginning of the twentieth century. As an African American individual, Du Bois draws from his own experiences towards efficiently utilizing the elements of ethos, pathos, and logos. The South African revolutionary Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” The validity of the claim above is perhaps best exemplified via the thirteenth chapter of Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk, namely “Of the Coming of John.” This chapter primarily serves to highlight the potential of education in eradicating the veil of racial segregation, further identifying miscellaneous repercussions associated with such development.
“Of the Coming of John” juxtaposes the experiences of a Black man with that of a White man, serving to promulgate an omnipotent view of racial segregation that persisted in the wake of slavery’s abolishment during the 1800s. Apart from being namesakes and hailing from the same place of origin, both the Black and White John had little in common. While John (Black) is depicted as being a humble individual who embodies humility and intelligence, John (White) is portrayed as a privileged man who remains irate, impatient, and ignorant. The apparent contrast between both these characters exemplifies the existence of a veil governed via social, economic, and racial dynamics, essentially serving to promulgate cultural stratification and racism. As Dubois says “To be a poor man is hard, but to be a poor race in a land of dollars is the very bottom of hardships”. The Black man pursues education by sacrificing everything else in his life, on the other hand, the White John attains education for being born in a privileged environment. The illustration as mentioned earlier is suggestive of privileged upbringing being the primary factor allowing for numerous individuals to be educated at elite academic institutions. Black John, upon having returned home, strives to contribute towards educating his community and in the process giving back what he had learned, in an attempt to educate the underprivileged. Nonetheless, his efforts are met with criticism as he is eventually alienated by his neighbors, as well as the community as a whole; “The people moved uneasily in their seats as John rose to reply… he spoke of the rise of charity and popular education… the age, he said, demanded new ideas… A painful hush skied that crowded mass. Little had they understood of what he said, for he spoke an unknown tongue”. Drawing from the discussions above, it becomes evident that education can potentially aid in achieving the maximal potential of an individual in particular, and the society in general, nonetheless, such transformations are associated with specific adverse outcomes as illustrated in the chapter.
Education as a tool for socioeconomic mobility remains a recurring theme throughout The Souls of Black Folk, best exemplified in the chapter “Of the Coming of John”. Du Bois strives to place a particular emphasis on the education of African-American individuals and its associated positive outcomes. By empowering themselves through education, the African American individuals can potentially eradicate the existence of the veil and uplift their social standing. The White men of the American nation had persistently oppressed the African American community via the institution of slavery. According to DuBois “The opposition of Negro education in the South was at first bitter, and showed itself in ashes, insult, and blood; for the South believed an educated Negro to be a dangerous Negro”. This caused a prolonged state of submission, the African American individuals lost their ability to achieve their maximal potential. The White men sought to suppress the Black individuals by suppressing their education, “John, this school is closed. You children can go home and get to work. The white people of Altamaha are not spending their money on black folks to have their heads crammed with impudence and lies”. “Of the Coming of John” identifies education as the primary means of social mobility and character development of the individuals from African American community. Furthermore, the chapter highlights the complex dynamics of such reforms for the African Americans who had minimal opportunity upon completion of education and hence failed at realizing its associated merits.
The chapter “Of the Coming of John” serves to elucidate how little value was placed in the lives of Black men and women, and how the dominant White class constantly sought to suppress them constantly. Moreover, lack of proper education had left such individuals unaware of their predicament and susceptible to be exploited by others. Such dynamics allow for the existence of pseudo-freedom wherein the society as a whole resists cultural, social, and economic integration. Black John, upon his return back home, realizes the existence of the state above of quasi-freedom, “He had left his queer thought-world and come back to a world of motion and of men. He looked now for the first time sharply about him, and wondered he had seen so little before, He grew slowly to feel almost for the first time the Veil that lay between him and the white world; he first noticed now the oppression that had not seemed oppression before”. It is imperative to recognize that Black John can draw upon the realization as mentioned earlier owing to his enhanced education. As such, it becomes evident Du Bois identifies education as the prominent methodology to racially uplift one’s economic and social class.
One of the most prominent and recurring themes in Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk remains education. “On the Coming of John” exemplifies various dynamics associated with enhanced educational background, and highlights its associated positive as well as negative outcomes. By eliciting an apparent contrast between Black and White Johns, Du Bois succeeds at effectively projecting the contradiction in the lives of White and Black Americans. Furthermore, the transformation in the character of Black John testifies to the potential of education in redefining individual lives. Additionally, Du Bois illustrates many repercussions associated with education, namely alienation, lack of adequate opportunities, depression, etc. Drawing from the analysis, it can be definitively stated that “Of the Coming of John” evidently embodies numerous elements of education, portrayed efficiently by many aspects of narrative fiction as a point of view, and within both characterization and dramatic structure.
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