The Language Of The Black Condition And All Conditions: Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “We Wear The Mask”

1112 words - 4 pages

Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem, “We Wear The Mask” cleverly talks of the black condition in a language so universal that it could apply to any race of people that tries to hide their emotions from the world in order to survive.
Dunbar argues for the reality of the black man’s plight in America, the black man's struggle for equality in the world, and the struggle for peace within. These are circumstances of the poet’s life that influenced his writing of the poem.
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Paul Laurence Dunbar’s was born in Dayton, Ohio in 1872, to parents who were former slaves. His parents divorced when he was four years old. Dunbar developed a strong bond with his mother. She told him stories of her slavery days, which helped influence his writings of poetry and short stories (Dunbar 602).
“Dunbar was the only African-American in his class at Dayton Central High, and while he often had difficulty finding employment because of his race, he rose to great heights in school (Dunbar , U. of Dayton). Dunbar began writing in high school, becoming class president and poet. He supported himself by writing as an elevator operator. Dunbar died at the age of 33 from tuberculosis. He had “written 12 books of poetry, as well as a play, five novels, and four books of short stories (Dunbar, U. of Dayton). He had also been published in many magazines and journals. After his death, his Dayton house became a landmark open to the public, and he had a high school named after him” (quote)

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Dunbar’s argument for the reality of the black man’s plight in America. The poem, “We Wear the Mask,” is written in Standard English in 1896. Dunbar is expressing deep feelings of being an oppressed black man. He is describing the harsh reality of the black race in America and how they are hiding their pain, sadness, and broken hearts under a mask to survive in a white racist society.
His poem depicts the black community in the face of the white world. As the son of two former slaves, Dunbar undoubtedly knows “the mask” intimately.
Dunbar is speaking from the heart. His poem is depicting African Americans “in the face of the white world that is oppressing them. As the son of two former slaves, Dunbar knows ’the mask’ intimately (Johnson).” In the first verse, Dunbar is taking off the mask. He is stating how strongly he feels about the mask the black race is wearing. He begins the poem with, “We wear the mask that grins and lies,” while on the inside blacks are hiding how they are feeling. ”By hiding our cheeks and shading our eyes” blacks are jading reality. The “we” in the poem is describing black Americans living a double life – with and without the mask. Right away, Dunbar is letting the reader know he is considering himself as part of the `we ' that he is...

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