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African American Voice in DuBois’s “The Souls of Black Folk” and Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” Essay

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Updated: Jul 20th, 2021

Introduction

The novels by Mark Twain are, perhaps, the most well-known specimens of American literature. Similarly, the works by DuBois feature the ideas embracing the traditional American values. The works of both Twain and DuBois have a very pronounced American voice since they focus on the problems faced by African Americans in the U.S. at the time. Because of a more clear focus on the social implications of racism in the U.S. and the refusal to use satire as the medium for conveying his argument, DuBois’ work introduces a more sincere argument than the one of Twain, which makes it a stronger narrative.

Dubois’ “The Souls of Black Folk” is very straightforward in its message. The author states explicitly that there is a drastic lack of equality in American society. In turn, Mark Twain makes efficient use of satire as the means of supporting the African American struggle for equality and fairness, which makes the main idea of justice more subdued. Nevertheless, there is an evident demand for the introduction of equality in the realm of American society. Overall, “The Souls of Black Folk” vocalizes the needs of African Americans and serves as their voice much more powerfully since the protagonist is African American, and since the conflict of the novel wraps around the issue of racism and discrimination.

Main body

In “The Souls of Black Folk,” the plot does not meander around any additional issues that make it diverge from the main topic, thus allowing for the creation of an authentic African American identity (Sullivan & Cross, 2016). Quite the contrary, DuBois provides a strong and unambiguous set of arguments against racism from the beginning, introducing authenticity to his work and making his claims legitimate (DuBois, 1930). It is quite remarkable that, even by stressing the characteristics of African Americans such as the lack of education and poverty, the author does not resort to racial stereotypes (Sullivan & Cross, 2016).

Instead, DuBois encourages a very sympathetic look at the situation in which the vulnerable group in question found itself at the beginning of the 20th century, using a very clear and formal language: “By the poverty and ignorance of his people, the Negro minister or doctor was tempted toward quackery and demagogy” (DuBois, 1930, p. 3). As a result, the authenticity of the speech and the legitimacy of DuBois’ claims remain high.

Twain, however, represents Huck’s point of view not as an entirely positive and completely distanced from the moral bankruptcy of the rest of the American society. Unlike “The Souls of Black Folk,” which renders the problem of racial inequality openly and honestly (Sullivan & Cross, 2016), Twain’s novel meanders around the issue by stating that Huck initially agrees with the social standards that made Jim’s escape illegal and worthy of punishment (Twain, 1884).

Very early on in his novel, Twain sets the mood of Jim’s escape and the overall problem of slavery and racism in America by using a very distinct language, particularly, using derogatory terms to define African American population (Ford, 2014). While the reader should realize that Huck’s thoughts are supposed to represent Twain’s satire, these ideas that come from the most innocent person in the novel undermine the legitimacy and authenticity of the message (Levy, 2016). Furthermore, the very fact that the entire novel is framed from a White person’s perspective and uses the corresponding language deprives it of its African American voice.

“The Souls of Black Folk” does not have the problem of internal contradictions since it is established from the very beginning as an honest and unvarnished representation of the sad reality of American racism. The author states from the very beginning in a manner that is rather unprecedented for the literature of the time that racism and slavery are a blight on U.S. history (DuBois, 1930). In “The Souls of Black Folk,” the problem of racism is addressed unambiguously, with the author condemning it openly:

After the Egyptian and Indian, the Greek and Roman, the Teuton and Mongolian, the Negro is a sort of the 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. (DuBois, 1930, p. 2)

Additionally, the choice of representing the problem of prejudices and racism in the American society from the African American perspective allows the author to incorporate a strong African American voice into his work (Bell, ‎Grosholz, & Stewart, 2014).

The approach used by DuBois is entirely different from Twain’s work, where the readers see the events of the novel not from the perspective of Jim but from the one of Huck. The specified decision stifles the voice of African Americans in the novel and fails to represent their plight properly since the actual Black character is only a foil for the development of the lead one. Thus, “The Souls of Black Folk” adds urgency to the problem and uses stronger arguments to support it.

Conclusion

Although both “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and “The Souls of Black Folk” render the problem of racism in the American society of the 19th century, it is DuBois’ novel that makes the reader focus on the problem and prompts the need to resolve it. Twain’s novel, in turn, represents the implications of racism as a secondary element of the plot and, instead, follows its White protagonist. Thus, “The Souls of Black Folk” has an admittedly much stronger African American voice in it, with the problem of inequality and the issues within the Black community discussed openly.

References

Bell, ‎B. W., Grosholz, E. R., & Stewart, J. B. (Eds.). (2014). W.E.B. Du Bois on race and culture. New York, NY: Routledge.

DuBois, W. E. B. (1930). . Web.

Ford, S. G. (2014). Tracing Southern storytelling in black and white. Tuscaloosa, AL: University of Alabama Press.

Levy, A. (2016). Huck Finn’s America: Mark Twain and the era that shaped his masterpiece. New York, NY: Simon and Schuster.

Sullivan, J. M., & Cross, W. E. Jr. (Eds.). (2016). Meaning-making, internalized racism, and African American identity. New York, NY: SUNY Press.

Twain, M. (1884). . Web.

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IvyPanda. "African American Voice in DuBois’s “The Souls of Black Folk” and Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”." July 20, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/african-american-voice-in-duboiss-the-souls-of-black-folk-and-mark-twains-the-adventures-of-huckleberry-finn/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "African American Voice in DuBois’s “The Souls of Black Folk” and Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”." July 20, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/african-american-voice-in-duboiss-the-souls-of-black-folk-and-mark-twains-the-adventures-of-huckleberry-finn/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'African American Voice in DuBois’s “The Souls of Black Folk” and Mark Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”'. 20 July.

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