Eng-103 AS (17)
29th Jan 2017
“We Wear the Mask”
Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s “We Wear the Mask” is dated in 1896, it reveals the personal frustration of the poet and it also examines a particular kind of truth of black race in America and how they hide their sorrow, broken hearts under a mask for their survival. The poem focuses on how people are afraid to open up and how they hide their reality behind a mask. My essay will reveal some of the important facts Dunbar portrays through his poem and it will also discuss that why we need to wear a mask? Why we never show our true character or emotion to the world? Why are we afraid to be our own self? And if the poem was written during the current era, it would still create a significant impact because it determines the rare reality of the world. The poem was written during the post-civil war when African Americans had rights, meanwhile racial discrimination was still prevalent.
The most part of the poem is written in iambic tetrameter with a repetitive rhyme pattern. The rhyme scheme used in the poem is AABBC. In the first stanza, the ‘We’ of the poem which addresses to the black community living a double life, masked and unmasked. Use of certain words such as ‘torn’ and ‘bleeding’ provide a visual impact to our emotions while reading the poem. “We wear the mask that grins and lies, it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes” in this particular verse the poet reveals the unspoken truth about mankind and considers mask as a symbol and says how everyone wears it to cover their true nature. Certain words like ‘grins’ and ‘lies’ add more effect to what the poet is saying. Contrary, these lines apply to every mankind as we all at some point or other wear a mask for various different reason; to escape reality, cover our reality, maybe we are shy, and we think other people will judge us or any other reason. It also says how one can never know how much the other person is suffering because it covered by a fake smile. The debt poet is talking about refers particularly to black people of America, it describes how they still used to pay the debt to cunning people even they were really sad (when they didn’t have the money) but they pretend to be happy while paying the debt. However, in the second stanza the poet asks the reader a rhetorical question and ends us giving us a sharp bitter answer to that question. It also questions why we wear the mask and why the world should judge us. The tone used by Dunbar in the lines “Why should the world be over-wise in counting all our tears and sighs?” is pleading and proud. Also, in these lines the world resembles to the community of the bystanders. One can also say that the poet expresses his anger through these lines. He in a way taunts the white people that they don’t need to their tears and sorrow, all they should see is their fake self.
In the third stanza he talks of their struggle behind the mask. The third stanza introduces allusion through the words: vile’. Dunbar also introduce apostrophe, metaphors and more imagery. He finally finishes the poem with a proud declaration. The words like ‘cries’, ‘tortured souls’, ‘the clay is vile’ are connotative words and used to establish the tone of the poem. Dunbar gives us various examples of the real life where one wear mask – “We smile, but, O’ great Christ, our cries To thee from the tortured soul arise.” Through which he is explaining to his audience that people are smiling but they are also praying to the god that their “tortured souls” or troubles are gone. The lines “We sing, but oh they day is vile” endures the picture of people who is doing hard work, but they have a constant fear of being judged by other people which is one of the major reason why we wear mask, it is believed that those who wears mask protect themselves from other people and other hazards. The poem ends with a repetition of emotions “But let the world dream otherwise, We wear the mask!”. The people show a persistence to keep the true nature of their suffering to themselves and present the world an outward fake happiness. The final line is followed by an exclamation which emphasize the essential idea of the poem.
Dunbar through his poem tries to create a significant impact on the mind of the reader presents us the harsh reality that at some point or other we do wear mask in order to protect ourselves or we act differently around each people, we wear the mask to escape the reality. We are too afraid of the changing nuclear world that we try to keep our identity to our own selves. This poem addresses particular to the black people after the civil war of America but if we think about it, we can relate to it because in real life we do wear a mask which sometimes we might not able to notice or think about it.
Mays, J. Kelly The Norton Introduction to LITERATURE. WW. Norton and company, 2016 (pp-704)