It is a peculiar sensation, this double-consciousness, this 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

This sentence is from Du Bois' book, The Soul Of Black Folk.

This seems to mean that black Americans have both an American self and a black self, but the previous part is too difficult to interpret. Can you help me interpret it?

  • 2
    The meaning is clearly spelled out in the text and your question is not really related to our concerns here. You use a tape measure to measure things.
    – Lambie
    Oct 4, 2021 at 12:19
  • I thought the Question and the passage quoted were about literature, not language. Did I miss something? Oct 7, 2022 at 18:40

1 Answer 1


The key to the meaning is this:

this sense of always looking at one's self through the eyes of others...

A person knows what he is in a simple way, but he also knows that others regard him with contempt; as a social being, he must consider the views of others, especially if they have power over him, and those views make a measuring-tape that has its effect on his consciousness, regardless of its mindless injustice. So, he feels his two-ness.

  • Sorry, but this answer completely ignores, if not trivializes, the Black experience in America and gives a run-of-the-mill reading of the sentence. The explanation doesn't work in this context.
    – Eddie Kal
    Jan 28, 2021 at 3:56

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .