Analysis of We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar

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Analysis of We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar

“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar is a renowned piece of

literature that has been the subject of various literary criticisms

over the years. Because of the poem’s indirectness and generalized

ambiguity, the interpretation of the “we” that wears the “mask” and

why they do so is left unanimously undisclosed. It is up to the

interpreter and the support given by the interpreter to produce a

valid representation of the meaning that lies beneath the mask. One

such analysis of “We Wear the Mask” is presented by Peter Revell on

page 71 of his book Paul Laurence Dunbar, which was published in 1979

by G. K. Hall & Co. Unfortunately, the given argument nearly shames

the profoundness of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem with its brevity and

lack of sufficient support.

In Revell’s short and weak interpretation of Dunbar’s “We Wear the

Mask,” he suggests that it is impossible for the non-black reader to

draw inspiration or admonition from the subject matter, and that it

was written from within a black experience and exclusively for a black

audience. However, this analysis can be viewed as primarily invalid

because as Revell makes this claim, he fails to provide solid evidence

from the text that would fully booster his assumption. He merely

pulls an entire stanza from the poem to illustrate his point, without

referencing specific words or phrases that would elucidate his


If Revell were to have supplied more fully the evidence of Dunbar’s

other poetry of the time, showing how it objectively displayed a black

theme and straightforwardly addressed the injustices of slavery, then

a parallel of similarity could have been drawn between the two and his...

... middle of paper ...

...s one such “mask” that profoundly affected

Dunbar personally.

Revell failed to see the possibility that “We Wear the Mask” could

represent anything but the turmoil the black slaves endured because of

Dunbar’s disposition as a descendent of slaves. However, the

interpretation that this poem speaks to all people is supported more

fully through the text as a result of Dunbar’s use of the universal

“we” in coercion with religious reference. All people wear this

“mask” and until one figures out the most appropriate way to take it

off, “the world dream otherwise” and all will continue to fool and be

fooled by the world’s countless masks.

Works Cited

Revell, Peter. Paul Luarence Dunbar. United States of America: G.K.

Hall & Co., 1979

Brawly, Benjamin. Paul Laurence Dunbar Poet of his People. New York:

The University of

North Carolina Press, 1936.
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