In the short story On Being Crazy, W.E.B. Du Bois explores inconsistencies and hypocrisies of racism. The main character is a Black man who is either pestered and/or denied service at various establishments. The arguments made against him are that the people of the town do not want social equality. He agrees, but counters that what he truly seeks is civility – access food, lodging, transportation, entertainment, and kindness.

Though published in 1907, On Being Crazy remains relevant to contemporary audiences. First, consider how the distinction between social equality and social civility, and the hatred encountered by the main character, are shaped by the story’s historical era. In the 1900s, legal rights and general civility were largely denied to persons of color. Animosity, though common throughout the U.S., was heightened in the post-Civil War South, where there was widespread intolerance. Then, consider not only how the story relates to our own era but to the era that preceded it. For example, why does the main character say “my grandfather was so called” and “her grandmother was called that” when a derogatory term is rudely associated with his and his wife’s identity? Below are additional questions to consider.

Discussion Quetions

  • Why does the man who walks on mud propose that they are both crazy?
  • What does this story tell us about the Segregation Era?
  • How does this story relate to contemporary social and civil inequity?

After reading On Being Crazy (and writing down questions and new vocabulary) join us for an online discussion. We will meet on Friday, January 22 at 11:00 AM EST. The meeting is free and all are welcome.


  • Why does the last person the traveller meets propose that they are both crazy?
  • How is the story informed its historical time period and legacies of enslavement?
  • How does this story relate to contemporary social and civil inequality?
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