The Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar: We Wear the Mask and When Malindy Sings

The Poetry of Paul Laurence Dunbar: We Wear the Mask and When Malindy Sings

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Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in a northern town near Dayton, Ohio on June 27, 1872 (Brawley 12). His parents instilled in him the value of an education, and he excelled at the all-white Dayton Central High-school where he held the titles of class president, the president of the school literary society, and the editor of the school's newspaper (15). Dunbar was extremely well learned; he spoke and wrote in Standard English, but just as often his poetry was written in black dialect. As one of the first professional African American literary figures (Baym 1038), Paul Laurence Dunbar's poetry consists of two distinct styles: his dialect pieces with the simple rhyme schemes of the ballad lyrical form, such as his 1897 poem When Malindy Sings, and his classical poetry that has more complex rhyme and form, and is written in Standard English like his 1897 poem, We Wear the Mask. The dialect poem, When Malindy Sings, is a result of what Dunbar called the mask, and what W.E.B. Dubois would later call double-consciousness. It portrays black society through the eyes of white America and how they wish to see it, while the poem written in classical form, We Wear the Mask, displays Dunbar’s true thoughts concerning his identity and the identity of his race.

W.E.B. Du Bois introduced his concept of double-consciousness in the first chapter of Souls of Black Folk, entitled, Of Our Spiritual Strivings. He wrote that the African American is born with a “second sight” that offers “no true self-consciousness, but only lets him see himself through the revelation of the other world” (896). Du Bois further clarifies double-consciousness as the “sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others, of measuring one’s soul by the ty...


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...Benjamin. Paul Laurence Dunbar: Poet of his People. 1967 reissue. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, INC., 1967. 12. Print.

Du Bois, W.E.B. “The Souls of Black Folk.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2007. Print.

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. "When Malindy Sings." The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2007. Print.

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. “We Wear the Mask.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2007. Print

Introduction to Paul Laurence Dunbar. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Nina Baym. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2007. Print.

Robinson, Lillian S., and Greg Robinson. "Paul Laurence Dunbar: A Credit to His Race?" African American Review. 41.2 (2007): 218. Print.

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