Theme Of We Wear The Mask

“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar is a lyrical poem describing the symbolic mask worn by black Americans to cover up their deep misery and pain while facing racial discrimination and psychological torment in the post-Civil War years. The overall impression the reader gets is that of a mournful commentary that delivers a sad reality. The struggle lies in the fact that black Americans do not wish to expose their suffering, and so they are forced to use the mask as a way to make the world believe they are content and satisfied. This is purely a survival tactic. In order for black Americans to assimilate into the society that has caused them and their ancestors pain, they feel the need to wear a mask that allows them to at least superficially express their gratitude for having been kept alive. In this fifteen-line poem, Dunbar expresses his anger at having to hide his emotions. When black Americans were beaten, lynched and discriminated against, they were obligated to absorb it and mask their true emotions with a smile. Paul Laurence Dunbar, a son of freed slaves, goes on to emphasize the severity of the pain and suffering that these masks cover up by concealing the emotions behind a façade of smiles and grins. The mask, in essence, becomes a symbol of both weakness and strength. At the beginning, the mask conceals the truth. Its wearer hides behind a false barrier. The mask is an outer shell that blacks adopt so that their true feelings are not exposed. Interestingly, towards the end of the poem, the mask shifts from something that conceals emotion to something that essentially drives the persecutors away. With the mask in place, the oppressors can’t detect how much their scorn and agony affect the victim. The mask, being th... ... middle of paper ... ...true identity is spoken about in Chapter 1 when the narrator’s grandfather, a former slave, calls upon the narrator’s father to overcome the white’s “with yeses, undermine ‘em with grins, agree ‘em to death and destruction” (16). The grandfather suggests that on the surface, one should live the life of a cooperative “outsider” and internally preserve one’s animosity and resentment towards the perpetrator. Just as in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, the use of masks as an object of trickery becomes a form of defense as others violently assault the individual’s self-worth. Dunbar’s eloquent poem “We Wear the Mask” is a beautiful rendition of black men’s struggles to enter white society after their emancipation. Interestingly, the poet never once mentions slavery or racial discrimination in his body of work, leading one to believe that the poem itself is “wearing” a mask.
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