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A Twoness of Spirit

Michael Kennedy, leading one class tomorrow writes,

A Twoness of Spirit

“The Negro is a sort of 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. 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 twoness, – 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.” (pg. 3)

Imitation of Life pursues this idea of a twoness, making tangible the struggle that many African Americans had to accept as part of their life, a damnation by the color of their skin. While the “twoness” that Du Bois explains is the dichotomy between skin color and citizenship, Imitation of Life constructs a twoness between race and skin color. One of the main characters, Sarah Jane is born of mixed race, having had a white father and a colored mother. When we are introduced to her as a character, we realize she hardly, physically, seems African American at all, having inherited most of her father’s traits and skin color. This leads to Sarah Jane attempting to “hide” her African American heritage from society, as well as the nature of her mother. Sarah Jane ostracizes her mother throughout the story, attempting to eradicate any traces of “African American” history from her life. What we are left with at the end of this film is the idea of regret from Sarah Jane; a wish that she had accepted and loved what was most close to her rather than reject her true nature.

            What this film does is put into perspective the idea of race and what each person has to offer as an individual with their own talents and insights. As Du Bois writes, “He would not Africanize America, for America has too much to teach the world and Africa. He would not bleach his Negro soul in a flood of white Americanism, for he knows the Negro blood has a message for the world.” (pg. 3) This idea of “Americanization” is an important one that begs to be addressed throughout the film, Imitation of Life as well as Du Bois’s work, The Souls of Black Folk. What we realize as the problem is the attempt to “Americanize” African Americans, a failed attempt to bleach un-bleachable skin and brainwash thoughts into becoming something they aren’t. Sarah Jane metaphorically represents this idea of “Americanization” from the pigmentation of her skin and the attempted assimilation into “white” life and culture. She is rejected or “found out” during each attempt to “fit in”.

            “This, then, is the end of his/her strivings: to be a co-worker in the kingdom of culture, to escape both death and isolation, to husband and use his/her best powers and his latent genius.” (pg. 3) The goal is not to fit in when it comes to the world and its inhabitants. The goal as Du Bois so eloquently states, is to contribute to life as we know it and be a “productive” member of society, a term that is flexible in relation to what the individual deems as “productive” and “society”. How each person is to be productive is subjective, as it depends on that certain person’s background, talents, skills, and culture. As Du Bois alluded to, “Negro blood has a message for the world.” We all have our own talents and beliefs. When the world stops trying to quell the nature of specific culture, when we can accept people as they are and the cultures that comes from them and when people can truly accept themselves as a people and race, perhaps that “latent genius” that Du Bois references will shine through even brighter and a greater age will dawn. Until then, we can only learn from our past mistakes. 

What do you think?

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