We Wear The Mask Essay, Research Paper
We Wear The Mask
The central element of Paul Lawrence Dunbar s poem, we wear the mask, is the very words of the title. He repeats them in every stanza and they are a pivotal element that influences a reader s text selection for interpretation. These words alone indicate something being hidden or cast aside for a different appearance and they compel the reader to find out about just what it is the author is really writing.
At the beginning of the poem the author is offering the reader justification of personal feelings. It s easy to relate to any pain that causes the author to wear the mask that hides our eyes (line 2) form an inner sadness. It is human nature not to want to share our intimate feelings with the world and not allow them to be over-wise (line 6) of our personal problems. So, we put on a smile to these feelings (line 10) and only Christ in heaven-above knows the torture of our souls (line 11). Even though the pain is long (line14). At one time or another for whatever reason we all have worn the Mask. Therefore the reader feels he/she understands the poem.
After an initial book, however, the reader wants more information about this tormented pain so as to gain personal insights of their own feelings. For some reason, there is comfort in knowing you are not alone misery loves company so to speak. Dunbar never once explains the reason for the torn and bleeding hearts (line 4) and the reader can only interpret from their own perspective; thus a transfer of their own dilemma to wear the mask
If the reader happens to know (and realize) that Dunbar was a black poet, true understanding of the literary text may begin to appear. However, a single misdeed or problems may still be considered the devil s advocate here because Dunbar never admits to his cultural context. The reader is left to guess the origins of the tortured souls (line 11) and still does not truly know the reason for the author s mask. The reader might yet ask, But what happened ? What injustice is being referred to?
My interpretation of this poem relates to the sufferings of prejudice and racial injustices to the entire groups of black people: not just on incidence, but the many cruelties experienced over many years. Dunbar indicates this with the word myriad in line 5, all in line 7 and long the mile in line 13. He refers to the suffrage as a debt to human guile in line 3. I think Dunbar refers to his oppressed race needing to rise above the pain and sadness of the past and to cover it up with a mask and to go on in life letting the oppressors not see the hidden pain. Wear the mask and maybe the cruelties will stop (if they think we are not bothered).
Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906) was a black, American poet. Although he was born free in Dayton, Ohio Dunbar was the son of a former slave. He probably heard many stories of the cruelties and injustices suffered by these people; he very likely suffered prejudicial and racial sadness of his own. With this cultural context as knowledge it is easy to decipher that Dunbar indeed writes about the qualities of black life. Contrary to some of his other skillful sentiments, this poem was not written in black dialect and offered it another disguise. Many readers in my group had no idea the poem was about black life; they thought the poems meaning was confusing and hidden behind the titled mask. They attributed the sadness to some unknown tragedy that could afflict any human being.
I suppose I was drawn to this poem because I understood it immediately. Dayton, Ohio is my hometown and a Daytonian does not grow up without having heard of its famous American poet. His name appears in many places: like the library at Wright State University; several schools and a street to name a few. It was not the words of the poem that spoke to me, but the idea that a man form my hometown could write his thoughts and feelings down on paper and become famous for ding so. I wonder if this could happen one day for me?