Double-Consciousness in Audre Lorde’s “Coal”
There is a double-consciousness, according to W.E Burghardt Du Bois, in which we view ourselves through a veil. Underneath of this veil is the true self. The person that we are in our purest state. The veil itself, however, is how society sees us and our realization of that projection. Looking in a mirror, both layers can be seen. However, the true self is still covered, muddled, unclear beneath the sheer outer shell of expectation. In her poem “Coal”, Audre Lorde alludes to this concept through the dual image of a piece of coal and a diamond. As a black woman, Lorde only transforms from coal to diamond when she embraces her blackness as coal and, ironically, rejects the societal pressure to conform by speaking her words and embracing that she is black and coal.
In the beginning, Lorde equates herself with a piece of coal. She says that she is “the total black”(2068). As a piece of coal, she is black both inside and out. Being outwardly black, she may still be oppressed by the society around her, her identity being engulfed by the world. In the state of coal, she is merely “being spoken from the earth’s inside”(2068). Words would be stifled by the surrounding layers of dirt that engulf her.
As coal, Lorde is susceptible to the double-consciousness described by Dubois. The poem begins with an “I”, and continues in the second line to say “is the total black”(2068). She separates herself from the total black here, indicating that her true self is not necessarily within that “total black”(2068). She also separates herself from the bad grammar associated with illiteracy that characterizes many black communities. The total black, is not Lorde herself, but in fact, herself under the veil of double-consciousness. In “total blackness”, it is difficult to see, just as it is when seeing the world from under a veil. If the first word “I”, is taken and seen to mean “Eye”, the sentence becomes grammatically correct, as would be spoken by a literate white person(2068). Viewing the sentence in this fashion also reinforces the double-consciousness veil. From the perspective of a white person, based on what meets the eye, they see her as a black woman, and all of the oppressive stereotypes that may accompany that image. To the outside “eye”, she is “the total black” (2068).
Through the use of words, Lorde is able to cut through the pressure of this veil to become a diamond. Lorde equates the two when she says that “how diamond comes into knot of flame” is how “sound comes into a word, colored” (2068). She also says that “some words are open like a diamond on glass windows”. Diamonds cut through glass, and the glass here can be seen as the veil. Again, she speaks about words, describing words “like stapled wagers in a perforated book-buy and sign and tear apart-and come whatever wills and all chances the stub remains” (2068). The stub (of the raffle book), in this case, seems to...