We Wear the Mask

1260 Words6 Pages
Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask” is a lyric poem in which the point of attraction, the mask, represents the oppression and sadness held by African Americans in the late 19th century, around the time of slavery. As the poem progresses, Dunbar reveals the façade of the mask, portrayed in the third stanza where the speaker states, “But let the dream otherwise” (13). The unreal character of the mask has played a significant role over the life of African Americans, whom pretend to put on a smile when they feel sad internally. This ocassion, according to Dunbar, is the “debt we pay to human guile," meaning that their sadness is related to them deceiving others. Unlike his other poems, with its prevalent use of black dialect, Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask” acts as “an apologia (or justification) for the minstrel quality of some of his dialect poems” (Desmet, Hart and Miller 466). Through the utilization of iambic tetrameter, end rhyme, sound devices and figurative language, the speaker expresses the hidden pain and suffering African Americans possessed, as they were “tortured souls” behind their masks (10). The poem’s meter, iambic tetrameter, stands for the speaker’s heartfelt attitude regarding the sorrow that blacks kept away from whites, and in some cases, themselves. In the first stanza, the speaker proclaims that “[w]ith torn and bleeding hearts we smile, / And mouth with myriad subtleties” (4-5). During the time Dunbar published “We Wear the Mask,” blacks were treated with no dignity and were discriminated against on a constant basis. They felt they could not do anything to stop the series of unfortunate events that were happening to them, such as beatings, lynches, and no sufficient way to earn income or educ... ... middle of paper ... ...eding hearts” and “mouth . . . . myriad subtleties” (4-5).Today, everyone is entitled to having equal opportunities in the US. Back in Dunbar’s time, on the other hand, slavery prohibited blacks from being an ordinary person in society. Although they prayed heavily and persevered, they wore the mask for the time-being, in the hopes of living in a world where the color of one’s skin would not determine his or her character. Works Cited Dunbar, Paul Laurence. "We Wear the Mask." Prentice Hall: Literature Portfolio. Ed. Christy Desmet, D. Alexis Hart, and Deborah Church Miller. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson/Prentice Hall, 2007. 466-67. Print. "Paul Laurence Dunbar." Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 9 February 2012. Web. 12 February 2012.

More about We Wear the Mask

Open Document