Paul Lawrence Dunbar's Poem: We Wear The Mask

1024 Words5 Pages
Judging by the Cover Paul Lawrence Dunbar, an African-American poet, describes the suffering that blacks were subjected to in his 1913 poem, “We Wear the Mask”. In his poem, Dunbar asserts that blacks are partially responsible for the suffering of African Americans due to their belief that a deceptive “mask” was necessary for their survival. Dunbar begins his poem by introducing the idea of deception through a symbolic “mask”. In the first two lines, Dunbar states “we wear the mask that grins and lies, / it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes” (1,2). These lines portray an image of a dishonest face partially because of Dunbar’s word choice and partially because masks have been used as tools of disguise throughout history. However, the lines…show more content…
Dunbar claims “This debt we pay to human guile;” (3). Human guile is another way of saying the deviousness of humans. What Dunbar suggests is that “we”, or blacks, owe wearing the mask to human deceivers. Essentially, blacks chose to wear the mask as a disguise or survival method. It’s not until the end of the first stanza that readers are introduced to the pain blacks chose to disguise themselves from. According to Dunbar “With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, / And mouth with myriad subtleties.” (4,5) Bleeding and torn are symbolic of pain. The fact that the subjects of the mask continue to smile suggests that the mask was used to hide this pain. And considering slavery, many blacks could have had torn and bleeding hearts from intense labor, separation of family and loss of identities. In fact, some blacks actually did suffer physical bleeding and tearing. That statement serves as a dual meaning which ironically is similar to a mask. Furthermore, Dunbar’s next line suggests that there were various spoken pains that occurred unnoticed or subtle. The word mouth in this context was used as an action as opposed to the physical body part. Again, in a slave’s world, the insulting and verbal talk of black humans as property was painful to the slaves but was subtle to the masters. But Dunbar claims that blacks decided to showcase their smiles instead of pain. There’s nothing to suggest of the…show more content…
By questioning why the world is simply watching at “our” pain, Dunbar places the subjects of the mask in a group vs. world scenario. When the slaves’ situations are considered, the world was indeed quiet at the expense of the slaves’ lives. Dunbar knows this to be true and asks the question rhetorically to suggest that those who stay quiet contribute to the pain. Dunbar goes even further to say that “Nay, let them only see us, while / we wear the mask.” (8-9), suggesting that the world sees only the false reality. His interesting word choice of “let them” depicts the subjects as the ones willingly showing a false reality. Ironically, the world does nothing to stop the problem and the disguised subjects are not showing the harsh reality. The problem was that the slaves lied as a mechanism for survival but by doing so, they were unable to portray their cruel reality accurately. This causes both parties to be at fault according to
Get Access