Doctor, were I your wife, are there not people who would caress me as a white woman who would shrink from me in scorn if they knew I had one drop of Negro blood in my veins? [. . .] No, Doctor, I am not willing to live under a shadow of concealment which I thoroughly hate as if the blood in my veins were an undetected crime of my soul.

This quotation appears in Chapter XXVII when Dr. Gresham proposes to Iola for the second time. Iola again rejects Dr. Gresham’s offer, adamantly citing his hypocritical desire for her to silence any acknowledgment of her black heritage and warning that society’s scathing view of blacks would inevitably affect her, marring her marriage to the white Dr. Gresham. Further, Iola speculates that Dr. Gresham’s circle of friends and family would belittle her and defame her character if they discovered her true biological make-up. While she appears to be of the white race, Iola consciously opts to identify herself as black. Dr. Gresham’s protests of Iola’s pride in her black roots indicate his discomfort with miscegenation. In Harper’s time, a person’s civil rights and social status were defined according to his or her position on the Great Chain of Being, a racist, flawed scientific scale that measured a person’s worth according to skin tone, ranking whites ahead of blacks on the spectrum.

Harper uses figurative language to reinforce Iola’s insistence in her affirmation of her racial identification as black. The “shadows of concealment” refer to the novel’s title and bear particular significance. Through this metaphor that compares passing as white to hiding her true identity, Iola rebuffs Dr. Gresham’s recommendation that she align herself with the white race. The “shadow” refers to darkness, a motif that runs throughout the novel. In this instance, the shadow represents a falseness, a veil of sorts, that posing as white would bring upon Iola. Also, Iola refers to “an undetected crime of [her] soul,” a simile that likens being black to unconsciously committing a criminal act. This comparison alludes to the political and legal fallout associated with a person’s biology. For Iola, being born black carries the burden of unwarranted prejudice.