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It has been said many time that "You can't judge a book by its cover" and "Don't judge a man until you have walked a mile in his shoes"? A person may appear one way on the outside but may be feeling the total opposite on the inside. He may be masking his true emotions with a false appearance. In "We Wear the Mask" it seems that Paul Laurence Dunbar is conveying this message to his audience.
The African-American slaves of the early United States are prime examples of how emotions can be repressed. This group of people was treated with such disrespect and humiliation that it is understandable why they would mask their true thoughts and their emotions. To make their daily lives easier, they spoke and acted the ways that their white owners dictated. Their lives had, to a point, been taken away from them. But, there were some things that could never be taken away from them: their inner strength and their spirituality. No matter how a slave was treated, how hard he had to work, or how little he had, hedid have total control of his own thoughts and beliefs. Those things could never be taken from him.
This poem cries out with the hurt that African-Americans, throughout history, suffered with. To be able to endure this daily persecution, these people had to draw on their inner strength. When Dunbar wrote,"With torn and bleeding hearts we smile," it is obvious of the agony felt and of how a smile is sometimes worn in order to camouflage one's true emotions.
A deep, religious faith was a saving grace to these people as a whole. One's spirituality can carry them through even the most dreadful situations. This idea is evident when Dunbar penned the lines, "we smile,but, O great Christ, our cries To thee from tortured souls arise." When all else had failed, slaves could pray and feel that God had heard them. At last, their cries would be heard, their prayers answered, andtheir hearts relieved.
We all have hide our emotions at one time or another. We put on false faces and pretend for many different reasons. We all lie, in one form or another, be it a big lie or a little white one. Whether it be to save our self or the feelings of another we should all remember the Golden Rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:31).
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Dunbar, Paul Laurence. "We Wear the Mask." Touchstones: Literature and the Writing Process. Ed.
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Holy Bible. King James Version. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1978. p450.