“Like many immigrant offspring I felt intense pressure to be two things, loyal to the old world and fluent in the new, approved of on either side of the hyphen.”
– Jhumpa Lahiri
I teach English at MS 217 in Queens New York. MS 217 is located in Briarwood Queens. My homeroom last year reflected the diversity of the neighborhood the school is located in. Out of the 31 students in my homeroom, students were from: India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Yemen, Afghanistan, Nepal, China, Russia, Poland, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic and Colombia. Students have talked about the “conflict” they feel trying to balance their home life with that of the life they experience at school. Students often speak their native language at home as many of their parents do not speak English. Last year a student shared she was hesitant to bring native Bengali food for lunch for fear of how students might react in the cafeteria. This example is indicative of the experience of many of my students.
It will be helpful for my students to analyze texts whose speakers and characters also feel a sense of “belonging to two worlds”, and who must grapple with those feelings when thinking about their identity. Students will analyze various texts and search for detail that shows 1) the person/character has experienced Double Consciousness and 2) analyze how experiencing Double Consciousness has impacted the formation of their identity. Ideally analyzing texts whose speakers experience Double Consciousness will help students grapple with and consider their identity in a more thorough way.
- What constitutes identity? (Race, Religion, Ethnicity, Social Class, Language, Gender, Age, Religion, Sexual Orientation, Immigration History, Physical/Mental Identities)
- What factors in society might lead someone to feel a sense of dual identity or Double Consciousness?
- How might experiencing Double Consciousness influence the development of one’s identity?
- How might reading about, listening to, and watching people who have experienced Double Consciousness help someone learn to balance the multiple worlds they feel a part of and in the process grapple with the formation of their own identity?
Concepts and Key Terms
Double consciousness is a concept that W.E.B. DuBois first introduced in his book, The Souls of Black Folk. Written in 1903, double consciousness describes as feeling as though you have more than one social identity, which makes it difficult to develop a sense of self.
Begin by exposing students to each text (texts listed below). As students read, watch, or listen to each text, they can gather detail connected to DuBois’ concept of Double consciousness. Students can gather detail that supports the claim that 1) the person has experienced Double Consciousness and 2) analyze how experiencing Double Consciousness has impacted the formation of their identity.
Note: If there is not enough time to analyze each text, choose from the list of provided texts. It is vital students read the excerpt from The Souls Of Black Folk and understand the concept coined by DuBois. Once students read that text, however, teachers can decide which texts to analyze. For example, teachers may decide to only read Inside Out and Back Again, “Transcultural Identities”, and “Mother Tongue”.
This is a possible summative assessment assuming teachers decided to only read these three texts. If students analyzed additional texts, those texts can be added into the summative assessment.
Essential Question: Is Du Bois’ concept of Double Consciousness embodied in the experience of Ha in Inside Out and Back Again, Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue” and Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”?
Unit Objective: Students will synthesize across genres and demonstrate their ability to form and defend a position by determining if the concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experience of Ha in Inside Out and Back Again, Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue” and Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”.
Summative Assessment (Synthesizing: Putting It All Together)
Prompt: Determine if Du Bois’ concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experience of Ha in Inside Out and Back Again, Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue” and Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”. Include at least three pieces of text-detail in your analysis from each of the texts: Inside Out and Back Again, “Mother Tongue”, and “Transcultural Identities”. In addition, be sure to use text-detail from the W.E.B DuBois text The Souls Of Black Folk.
You may choose to structure your essay in the following way:
Paragraph One: Introduction: Include a hook, background information of each text you will be using, and thesis statement.
- Dubois’ concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experiences of Ha in Inside Out and Back Again, Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue” and Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”
- DuBois’ concept of Double Consciousness is not embodied in the experiences of Ha in Inside Out and Back Again, Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue” and Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”
Paragraph Two: Discuss how the concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experience of Ha in Inside out Back Again. Make sure to use at least three relevant details in support of your claim from Inside Out Back Again, in addition to detail from the DuBois text.
Paragraph Three: Discuss how the concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experience of Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue”. Make sure to use at least three relevant details in support of your claim from “Mother Tongue”, in addition to detail from the DuBois text.
Paragraph Four: Discuss how the concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experience of Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”. Make sure to use at least three relevant details in support of your claim from “Transcultural Identities”, in addition to detail from the DuBois text.
Paragraph Five: Conclusion: What was your essay about? What are the main points you made? What is your final thought that you want to leave the reader with? Why?
RL.8.1 Cite the textual evidence that most strongly supports an analysis of what the text says explicitly as well as inferences drawn from the text.
RL.8.2 Determine a theme or central idea of a text and analyze its development over the course of the text.
W.8.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
W.7.4 Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.
Note: This is a group task that can help students meet the demands of the summative assessment.
- As a group determine if Du Bois’ concept of Double Consciousness is embodied in the experience of Ha in Inside Out and Back Again, Amy Tan in “Mother Tongue” and Jhumpa Lahiri in “Transcultural Identities”. Include at least three pieces of text-detail in your analysis from your second text (Inside Out and Back Again, “Mother Tongue”, and “Transcultural Identities”).
- After responding to the question, explain which piece of text-detail is most relevant. Which detail best supports your claim?
- Leader/ researcher (you determine),
- Official Recorder/ researcher (you determine)*
- Researcher (Inside Out Back Again),
- Researcher (Mother Tongue),
- Researcher (Transcultural Identities),
- Researcher (you determine).
*The official recorder will record the detail that their partners used on chart paper to help teach classmates.
Please be prepared to defend your position!
Grade-Appropriate Materials and Resources
Text-Dependent Questions (The Souls Of Black Folk)
It is vital students understand the term Double Consiness as coined by DuBois. In order to help students grapple with The Souls Of Black Folk. I have created text-dependent questions that will help students analyze the text.
Below please find the text dependent-questions.
Note: The questions are aligned to Webb’s Depth Of Knowledge.
- Du Bois’ wrote The Souls Of Black Folk in 1903. Why might Du Bois have needed “dogged strength”? Explain.
- What figurative language does Du Bois employ in the first paragraph? Why he might have incorporated this specific type of figurative language. Explain.
- Du Bois uses many powerful words in such a short text. Which words or phrases stand out to you? How does the use of specific word choice help create/ influence the overall meaning and tone? Explain.
- What is Du Bois’ main concern? Explain. In your response provide text detail (please paraphrase).
- According to “Understanding W.E.B. Du Bois’ Concept of Double Consciousness” what causes “blacks to suffer from a damaged self-image”? Explain. In your response provide text-detail.
- What does the example of the “black artisan” help to show? Explain. In your response provide text detail.
- DOK LEVEL 4: (this can be used as a possible source as a mini-Socratic seminar (time permitting)
Prompt: Was W.E.B Du Bois justified in feeling that he belonged to two worlds? In addition, determine the effect experiencing Double Consciousness might have had on his personal development.
Text-Dependent Questions (“Mother Tongue”)
Note: In order to help students analyze “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan, I created the following text-dependent questions. Before students are able to gather detail connected to if Tan or her mother experiences Double Consciousness, it is important they understand and comprehend the text. In this way, these questions will hopefully serve as a scaffold and help students complete higher-level work.
- Why might Tan open with an explanation of what she is not? Explain.
- What might Tan mean by “different Englishes.” Explain. Why does Tan speak a “different English” with her mother than with her husband. Explain.
- Why does Tan include the example of her mother and the hospital? Explain.
- What is the significance (meaning and importance) of the reference to Tan’s mother reading the Forbes report and listening to Wall Street Week? Explain.
- Tan says that experts believe that a person’s “developing language skills are more influenced by peers,” yet she thinks that family is more influential, “especially in immigrant families.” Do you think family or peers exert more influence on a person’s language?
- Why does Tan discuss the SAT and her performance on it?
- Why does she envision her mother as the reader of her novels?
- In paragraph 3, Tan writes fairly long sentences until she writes, “My mother was in the room.” Why is this sentence shorter? What is the effect of the short sentence on the reader?
- Amy Tan is uncomfortable with the term “broken English” because it suggests that it is “damaged” and “needs to be fixed”. Do you agree that this term is unfair and limits an individual? Do you believe this term can change one’s perception of another like it did for Tan and her mother?
- Why do you believe people are treated differently (for example, Tan’s mother) based on language abilities? How does this treatment affect them? Explain.
- Tan was told many times that writing was her “worst skill”, yet she became a very successful author. Besides her “rebellious nature” what do you believe pushed her to pursue her dreams against all odds and hardships
Pursue (per-SOO) = to strive to gain
Text-Dependent Questions (“Transcultural Identities”)
Note: In order to help students analyze “Transcultural Identities” by Jhumpa Lahiri, I created the following text-dependent questions. Before students are able to gather detail connected to if Tan or her mother experiences Double Consciousness, it is important they understand and comprehend the text. In this way, these questions will hopefully serve as a scaffold and help students complete higher-level work.
- 1) Please reflect on the quote: “hyphen quote in bold”. What does Lahiri mean? Explain.
- What is Lahiri’s central concern in paragraph one? Explain.
- Why might Lahiri hide what she eats? Explain.
- What does the example Lahiri uses with the math equation help to show? Explain (in your response include detail from multiple paragraphs).
- According to Lahiri why is being an “Irish-Immigrant” easier? Explain. Do you agree with Lahiri? Explain.
- In paragraph four, Lahiri states “the traditions on either side of the hyphen dwell in me like siblings…” Why does Lahiri use this simile? Explain what she means.
- What is evidence to show Lahiri has established a identify she is happy with? Explain.
- Why might Lahiri feel she lacks the “authority her parents bring to being Indian”? Explain.
Texts: (in order they will appear)
- Excerpt from The Souls Of Black Folk by W.E.B Dubois
- Inside Out Back Again (Historical Fiction) by Thanha Lai
- The Butler (Full-Length Film)
- “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan (narrative non-fiction)
- “Transcultural Identities” by Jhumpa Lahiri (narrative non-fiction)
- “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (poem)
- Interviews on Radio Rookies
- Interview One: “American Dream-Minus My Mom”
- Interview Two: “The ABC’s Of Chinese Culture”
- The Good Son (Short Film)
Excerpt from The Souls Of Black Folk by W.E.B Dubois
Chapter One of The Souls Of Black Folk: “Of Spiritual Striving”
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.
The history of the American Negro is the history of this strife,–this longing to attain self-conscious manhood, to merge his double self into a better and truer self. In this merging he wishes neither of the older selves to be lost. 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 that Negro blood has a message for the world. He simply wishes to make it possible for a man to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly in his face.
Note: The article “‘The Veil’ and ‘Double Consciousness’” can help provide background information on the concept of Double Consciousness. It may help to have students read this article before the excerpt from The Souls Of Black Folk where Dubois introduces the idea.
Text: Inside Out Back Again (Historical Fiction) by Thanha Lai
Note: The book is available to purchase on Amazon.com.
Summary: Inside Out and Back Again is inspired by the author’s childhood experience of fleeing Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon and immigrating to Alabama, this coming-of-age debut novel told in verse has been celebrated for its touching child’s-eye view of family and immigration.
For all the ten years of her life, Hà has only known Saigon: the thrills of its markets, the joy of its traditions, and the warmth of her friends close by. But now the Vietnam War has reached her home. Hà and her family are forced to flee as Saigon falls, and they board a ship headed toward hope. In America, Hà discovers the foreign world of Alabama: the coldness of its strangers, the dullness of its food . . . and the strength of her very own family. (Good reads)
Note: This can serve as a central text. Because the lexile level is low (800L), this is an accessible text for students with below grade level reading skills. As a result, this text serves as a great starting point. Students can grapple with how Ha, the novel’s protagonist, experiences Double Consciousness, and then look to see how other characters/ figures experience Double Consciousness in other more complex texts.
Text: The Butler (film)
Information about the film on Rotten Tomatoes
Summary: The Butler, directed by Lee Daniels, is an American historical drama. Loosely based on the real life of Eugene Allen, the film stars Forest Whitaker as Cecil Gaines, an African-American who eyewitnesses notable political and social events of the 20th century during his 34-year tenure serving as a White House butler.
Suggested supplementary article:
Double Consciousness In Lee Daniels’ The Butler
Excerpt from article:
One of the movie’s African American characters, speaking in the 1940s, notes that a Black man must wear “two faces,” one for other Blacks and another for Whites. Perceptive critics have identified how this borrows from “double consciousness,” a concept that W.E.B. Dubois first wrote about in 1897.
Text: Mother Tongue by Amy Tan (narrative non-fiction)
Read Mother Tongue online.
Summary: The essay is about Chinese Americans not being known as English literature writers. Instead they are known as biologist and accountants. Because of it one woman sets out to prove that not all Chinese Americans are biologist and accountants by becoming an English literature writer herself.
Note: Students can search for evidence that shows how Amy Tan an/or how her mother has expected Double Consciousness. It is easier for students to identify how the mother may have experienced Double Consciousness. In order to differentiate and challenge students with grade level or above grade level skills, students can search or evidence that shows how this experience could potentially lead Amy Tan to experience Double Consciousness.
Fortunately, for reasons I won’t get into today, I later decided I should envision a reader for the stories I would write. And the reader I decided upon was my mother, because these were stories about mothers. So with this reader in mind — and in fact she did read my early drafts–I began to write stories using all the English’s I grew up with: the English I spoke to my mother, which for lack of a better term might be described as “simple”; the English she used with me, which for lack of a better term might be described as “broken”; my translation of her Chinese, which could certainly be described as “watered down”; and what I imagined to be her translation of her Chinese if she could speak in perfect English, her internal language, and for that I sought to preserve the essence, but neither an English nor a Chinese structure. I wanted to capture what language ability tests can never reveal: her intent, her passion, her imagery, and the rhythms of her speech and the nature of her thoughts.
“Transcultural Identities” by Jhumpa Lahiri (narrative non-fiction)
Summary/ Background: Cultural psychologist Carola Suárez-Orozco writes that for children, “the task of immigration . . . is creating a transcultural identity.” She explains, “These youth must creatively fuse aspects of two or more cultures—the parental tradition and the new culture or cultures. In so doing, they synthesize an identity that does not require them to choose between cultures but incorporates traits of both cultures.” 1
Like many immigrants to Europe, Indian-American author Jhumpa Lahiri has lived in two cultures for most of her life. Balancing her dual identity has not always been easy for her. Despite her rich heritage, while growing up, she never felt completely Indian or American. Only later in life did she accept both of her identities. Lahiri, now a parent, hopes to pass both of her identities on to her children.
Note: If students enjoy this text, they can read some of Lahiri’s other texts; many of which are accessible for middle school readers. Although students can read a text like The Namesake, they may want to start with short stories from Unaccustomed Earth or Interpreter of Maladies. Students can continue to explore the idea of Double Consciousness when reading Lahiri’s short stories.
I have lived in the United States for almost 37 years and anticipate growing old in this country. Therefore, with the exception of my first two years in London, “Indian-American” has been a constant way to describe me. Less constant is my relationship to the term. When I was growing up in Rhode Island in the 1970s I felt neither Indian nor American. Like many immigrant offspring I felt intense pressure to be two things, loyal to the old world and fluent in the new, approved of on either side of the hyphen. Looking back, I see that this was generally the case. But my perception as a young girl was that I fell short at both ends, shuttling between two dimensions that had nothing to do with one another
“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar (poem)
By Paul Laurence Dunbar
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!
Note: Providing background information on Dunbar may be beneficial for students to provide context. Dunbar was born in Ohio to former slaves and is recognized as being the first African American to gain national recognition and support himself through writing. Dunbar struggled finding work as a writer due to his race so he took a job as an elevator operator.
Note: The article “An Analysis Of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s We Wear the Mask” may prove to be useful resource and help craft lessons centered on the text.
Text: Interviews on Radio Rookies
Listen to Radio Rookies online.
Background: Radio Rookies is a New York Public Radio initiative that provides teenagers with the tools and training to create radio stories about themselves, their communities and their world. Since 1999, Radio Rookies has been conducting workshops across New York, in predominantly under-resourced neighborhoods, training young people to use words and sounds to tell true stories. Upon completion, the Rookies’ documentaries air on WNYC on WNYC’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
Interview One: “American Dream-Minus My Mom”
Interview Two: “The ABC’s Of Chinese Americans”
Note: Radio rookies can help engage students with low-level reading skills. Students can gather evidence to support how the speakers have experienced Double Conciseness without having to read a text. This can serve as a great access point for many struggling students and can ultimately help them find similar detail in more complex texts.
Text: The Good Son (Film)
A film by Michael Sandoval
Summary: Pummelling a bag, a young Filipino American Fighter forges a space for himself in a home dominated by the sermons of his minister-father. Beneath the surface of this unspoken truce lies questions about religion, violence, responsibility, and the meaning of being a man.
Note: This text can be used effectively for students with below level skills. Students can apply the concept of Double Consciousness to the experience of the young man in the film. Therefore, students do not need to grapple with and understand complex text.
What identities does the man in this film balance? Explain.
About Paul Conlon
Paul Conlon is an English teacher at MS 217, a middle school, in Queens. In addition to teaching English, Paul initiated and runs the school’s Peer-Tutoring program and the school’s Drama Club. The Peer-Tutoring Program was featured in the School Spotlight section of the Queens Chronicle, and his Drama Club students perform in the school’s Winter and Spring Arts Festival. He takes his students beyond the classroom, connecting to historical and current issues, and enriches their school experience by taking trips to the Museum of Modern Art, Broadway plays, the Museum of the Moving Image, and to the NYPL at 42nd Street to do research. Last, Paul takes on many leadership roles at his school. He is a Demonstration Teacher and on the school’s Instructional Team. In an effort to build a collaborative environment, he welcomes parents, administrators and other teachers into his room on a weekly basis.