“BETWEEN me and the other world there is ever an unasked question: unasked by some through feelings of delicacy; by others through the difficulty of rightly framing it….instead of saying directly, How does it feel to be a problem? They say, I know an excellent colored man in my town; or, I fought at Mechanicsville; or, Do not these Southern outrages make your blood boil (Du Bois 1)?” In “The Souls of Black Folk” W.E.B. Du Bois raises awareness to a psychological challenge of African Americans, known as “double - consciousness,” as a result of living in two worlds: the world of the predominant white race and the African American community. As defined by Du Bois, double-consciousness is a:
…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 two-ness, -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. (Du Bois 1)
In other words, double-consciousness can be described as an attempt to make peace with the clashing values of African heritage and European upbringing within an African American individual. Such an obstacle has the potential to be quite damaging to one’s sense of identity. The psychological theory of double-consciousness can be explored in the writings of African American authors. The works of Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God and the first chapter of Ralph Ellison’s The Invisible Man demonstrate the challenging collision of two cultures within the protagonists shaping their identities, and surprisingly aiding them to achieve a stronger sense of self than they originally had.
In Their Eyes Were Watching God the main character, Janie, was brought up by her Nanny while living on the property of a white couple known as Mr. and Mrs. Washburn. Nanny worked as a caretaker for Mrs. Washburn, raising her grandchildren. While living in the backyard of the Washburn’s, Janie had her first visual recognition of herself after having her picture taken. Staring at the photograph, Janie asked “where is me” (Hurston 9)? Upon being pointed out in the photograph by Nellie, Mrs. Washburn’s daughter, Janie exclaimed “Ah’m colored” (Hurston 9)! Janie was shocked at the revelation that she was of a different skin color than the other children she had been living and playing with. Janie is biracial, having a black mother and a white father. She consequentially suffers the torments of the school children at the black school, who torture her about living on the property of a white family and her now absent parents. Janie’s peers remind her that the Washburn’s dogs were used to hunt her father after he was discovered having raped and impregnated Janie’s mother. From an early age, we see Janie experiencing a “second-sight in this American world” (Du Bois 1). She undergoes a feeling of...