Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk as a Reflection of the Western Humanities





Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk as a Reflection of the Western Humanities

Over time, the Humanities have functioned as a valid source of information for a variety of occurrences that have taken place until now. Indeed, the Humanities have focused on a myriad of issues that range from subjects of life and death to the conception of the human world. Much of the data stemming from this body of knowledge has been subjected to empirical research in order to evaluate the validity of its respective data, especially in the West. Nonetheless, it is impossible to deny the significance that the Western Humanities have imposed especially in the dissemination of knowledge across the world. Due to the integration of different Western thoughts, the respective literature has attempted to understand humankind by trying to decipher what constitutes humanity. W.E.B. Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk is one such example. Due to its focus on the complexities affecting African-Americans, Du Bois’ book clearly interjects the aspect of humanity. Hence, in comparison with Homer’s The Odyssey and Dante’s Inferno, The Souls of Black Folk truly reflects the Western Humanities and further depicts a development in this form of literature.

Understanding Western Humanities

In definition, the Humanities largely comprise academic disciplines bent on researching culture among human beings. Normally, these academic subjects utilize techniques that are essentially critical or tentative. Based on this, they contain considerable references to history and utilize such past information in order to gain further understanding into different aspects that embody humanity. Nonetheless, such disciplines do not necessarily embody a scientific or empirical foundation in comparison with most natural sciences. Hence, these subjects of study comprise literature, old and contemporary languages, religion, philosophy as well as drama and visual arts such as theatre and music. Additionally, units involving the social sciences such as anthropology, communication and cultural studies are also specified as humanities due to their study of humanity. Furthermore, the humanities may also refer to subjects, which lack a predisposition towards experimental techniques of research. In this respect, such subjects constitute psychoanalysis, cultural anthropology and history.

An Overview of the Subjects of Comparison

The Odyssey and Inferno are major poems set in different periods. Each poem contains significant influence of the milieu that both authors occupied in relation to the subject matter they focus on. In the first poem, the sonnet mainly concentrates on Odysseus, the Greek hero and his voyage to his abode after the destruction of Troy. Accordingly, the protagonist takes a decade in order to arrive at Ithaca regardless of the ten years of war he endured during the Trojan War. Due to his considerable time overseas, most of the people in Ithaca assume that he is dead. As such, his spouse Penelope and his first-born, Telemachus must endure the consistent unruliness of prospective suitors who were competing to marry Penelope based on Greek customs and traditions. Apart from the difficulties faced by his family due to the rude acts of the suitors, Odysseus, while on his journey to Ithaca, encounters a myriad of mythological and natural complexities that further delay his arrival to his home.

Dante’s Inferno also details the conquests of two poems as they traverse through the foyer of Hell. In contrast to Homer’s obvious Greek influences, this particular poem reveals the impact of Catholicism on Dante’s literature. In summary, Inferno illustrates the journey of Dante as he traverses over Hell’s nine circles. With the voyage beginning on Good Friday, Dante encounters another Roman poet by the name, Virgil, and together, they descend into Hell during the commemoration period of Christ’s death and resurrection. Accordingly, the poets experience several unimaginable difficulties as they course through the vestibules of Hell. Together, both poets travel through a malevolent world of dejected souls, horrendous tortures and incessant lamentation.

Comparative Analysis with Du Bois’ Souls of Black Folk

As a 20th century piece of literature, Du Bois’ book does not entirely deviate from the compositions eminent within the Humanities. In fact, the respective book possesses considerable traits, which dictate the influence that this form of literature imposes especially in creating works based on humanity. Accordingly, The Souls of Black Folk elucidates the meaning behind the notion of emancipation and its impact. Written and published in 1903, the book is set in a milieu that exalts racism especially against the minority groups occupying America at the time, especially the African-Americans. Hence, one of the first aspects of comparison with Homer and Dante’s poems comprises the influence of the authors’ settings. Undeniably, as representations of Western Humanities, The Odyssey and Inferno contain context-based influences based on the subject matter they embody.

In Homer’s poem, Greek religion plays a fundamental role especially in Odysseus’ encounters with the Poseidon (Greek god of the sea), Athena (goddess of wisdom) and Zeus (king of the gods). Similarly, Dante’s poem depicts the influences of Romanic religion. In Inferno, the reader can see the impact of the Roman beliefs on Dante. On one hand, Dante’s illustration of Hell complies significantly with Catholic-based convictions on judgment and the afterlife. On the other hand, the deceased Roman leaders, Brutus and Cassius, are introduced as committers of sin based on the treacherous acts they enacted against their respective rulers (Dante Canto XVII). Additionally, Dante also presents another traitor, Judas, who played an important role in the crucifixion of his master, Jesus Christ. As such, it is strongly possible to notice the effects of Christianity in the poet’s literary composition.

The Souls of Black Folk also presents the difficulties experienced by humanity as another point of similarity. Accordingly, Du Bois illustrates the African identity as the basis for the social constraints faced by African Americans as they attempt to integrate themselves in an overt white society (Du Bois 51-53). In their attempts, they endure physical, emotional and mental abuse due to acts of racism and discrimination from the larger white population, which were rather considerable during this period. Regardless of the freedom they gained from Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, the victims only endure a rather limited life due to the racial activities of the encompassing white community. In comparison, The Odyssey and Inferno also present the difficulties that the protagonists as they engage in their respective journeys. For instance, Odysseus’ voyage is marred with physical complexities such as sexuality (in reference to Calypso) and emotional difficulties, based on his absence from his family (Homer 47-51). Similarly, Dante experiences such issues due to the suffrage of human souls in Hell. In this respect, the ‘journeys’ in the three forms of literature serve as indicators of the trials faced by human beings from the beginning of their lives to the imminent death.


Even though Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk reflects literature founded upon Western Humanities, it, nonetheless, contains obvious dissimilarities. In comparison with The Odyssey and Inferno, this respective work attempts to evade the intellectual shortcomings of the Humanities by focusing on real issues. Du Bois utilizes his experience and the situations affecting African Americans in the United States in the early 20th century as a basis for discussing the problem of racism and its impact on the victims’ lives. Hence, it provides rational information, which is considerably valid for empirical research.

Works Cited:

Dante, Alighieri. Inferno. New York: W.W. Norton, 2002. Print.

Du Bois, W. E. B. The Souls of Black Folk. New York: Barnes & Noble Classics, 1903. Print.

Homer. The Odyssey. New York: Penguin Books, 2006. Print.

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