The Mask Essay, Research Paper
What is Behind Your Mask?
Every minute of every day people wear a mask. A mask to hide the
true identity of their feelings. The 1896 poem “We Wear the Mask”,
Paul Laurence Dunbar illustrates this theory. People wear mask for
many different reasons but mostly to hide their true self from society.
The message portrayed by Dunbar is that it is one’s self right to wear a
mask as they so choose.
The first couplet clearly states how strongly Dunbar feels about
the mask that we wear. According to him the mask allows us to
“grin[s] and lie[s]” while on the inside we are hiding how we truly feel.
By hiding our cheeks and shading our eyes we jade reality. In the
following line Dunbar explains one of the ways we use our mask is to
be “guile”. Guile means that we are deceitful to others in our daily
quest. The fourth line of the stanza explains that we may hurt deeply
on the inside but because we are wearing our mask we still smile. So
no matter how bad we do hurt, out of habit we feel obligated to put
on a mask for everyone else. Dunbar ends the stanza by implying that
not only do we lie with our smiles but our mouth lies through the smile
with “myriad and subtle” words.
The next stanza illustrates the fact that Dunbar believes we
have every right to wear our mask. At the same time he seems to be
saying that we should wear our mask everyday and take it off for no
one. Dunbar believes that we should not have to let the world know
“all our tears and sighs”. Why should the world be “over-wise” to our
true feelings. Perhaps we are not harming a soul by the mask we
wear. Dunbar states “Nay let them only see us, while/ We wear the
mask” to prove this point. I believe he might feel this way because in
his personal life he may have had something to hide from the world.
Authors seem to draw their works from true experience.
In the final stanza Dunbars says that the ultimate price we pay for
wearing our mask is when our “tortured” souls cry out to God. With
agony Dunbar cries out “oh Great Christ” as if he has experienced
such a profound amount of pain. Perhaps some people feel that
God is the only one to talk to because he never passes judgement on
us. No matter how hard we try we can never hold a mask to God
because he always sees our true being. The third and fourth line of
the final stanza Dunbar says “We sing, but oh the clay is vile beneath
our feet..” which could mean many things. When he says clay he
could be referring to us humans, and that we as people are ,vile, very
repulsive and wicked. I think that he alludes to Isaiah 64:8 in which it
states ” …We are the clay and you[God] are the potter; we are the
work of your hands”. Our mask of lies and secrets keeps God from
molding us the way he desires, which in turn makes mankind vile. In
the last line “let the world dream otherwise” it seems that Dunbar
wants us to keep wearing our mask so that we, humankind, can live
This poem goes deeper than just the words on the page. When
reading the words over and over the meaning seems to go deeper
and deeper. No one can ever be sure of the message that Dunbar is
trying to relay to us. Everyone should develop their own opinion and
take this poem to heart. From my own personal experience I don’t
agree solely with what Dunbar says because people should not be
content with wearing their mask. It is not always healthy to hide
ones true self and feelings, especially if they are painful. I also feel
that if you continually ware you mask you will soon lose touch of who
you really are. It is more accepted now than when the poem was
written to share or seek help, counsel, from one. I strongly suggest
that if you have spent a lifetime behind your mask and are full of
intense feelings and emotions that you do swallow you pride and
seek professional help.