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DuBois and Washington: Realism in Fiction Essay

In both DuBois’ work, The Souls of Black Folk, and Washington’s work, Up from Slavery, the reader is presented with viewpoints of emancipation from the oppressive slavery of being controlled under the harmful influences of the white elite. The stories of rising above one’s personal struggle and finding freedom during a time corrupt with racism and classism are illustrated by both authors. In reading these tales, one is presented with a picture of the importance of the black person, with the spiritual journey in finding personal meaning and pride in an environment of hatred and misunderstanding.

While DuBois presents the black situation somewhat like a folktale, with more instances of fiction being woven throughout the realism of the work, Washington presents a work more related to nonfiction, with stronger elements of realism which strengthens the truth of his writing. The way Dubois crafts his tale is one of passion and imagery, beautiful prose with aims to serve the senses as much as the intellect. However, in this way, he is prone to flights of fancy and wandering from realism and the important points of social justice.

Although he describes his own personal situation quite well and in colorful detail, one is sometimes left wondering about his point, whether he is aiming to make a strong contribution to a cause or a simply a strong contribution to the love of painting with words. He writes that the social walls were “straight and stubborn to the whitest, but relentlessly tall, narrow, and unscalable to sons of night who must plod darkly on in resignation” (8).

Although there’s beauty here, one notes an element of self pity and ignorance of the true social movement of his time, the flight into fantasy and rejection of realism. Washington is more apt to speak plainly, with a somewhat determined sense of realism in his aim to produce a nonfictional autobiography. Facts are given out in abundance, objective truths which the reader can surely hold and place in a sense of assured reality. He describes his own life and pursuits in fairly stark detail, promoting a sense of uprising and a simple yet eloquent narrative of his own personal journey.

In a quote about his father, Washington states that he “was an unfortunate victim of the institution which the nation unhappily had grafted upon it at that time” (3). While the reader can ascertain a sense of reality in his picture of his father and the national social situation, one is still left somewhat disturbed by the lack of a true sense of outrage in the governmental situation, the lack of social justice, and the contribution of his own father to the oppressive regime.

While Washington presents his tale more realistically than DuBois, both men could have presented their tales with more assured sense of the ethical dilemma of their time, sparked with a true sense of urgency in aiming for social justice. Works Cited DuBois, W. (2007). The Souls of Black Folk. Oxford University Press. Washington, B. (1986). Up from slavery. Penguin Classics.


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