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Critical Essay of Dunbar's Poem "We Wear the Mask"

  • Date Submitted: 02/10/2011 04:32 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 69 
  • Words: 1541
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Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906)

We Wear the Mask

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.
Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us, while
            We wear the mask.
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream otherwise,
            We wear the mask!

OBJECTIVE ANALYSIS
The poem “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar is a lyric poem. Its theme centers in Pretention as what the title suggested. The whole story behind has been revealed by oppressed black Americans. The tone of the poem expresses an overwhelming suffering as they were compelled to hide their pain and frustration behind the façade of happiness and contentment.
In creating the tone, the poet chose to use many verbs to emphasize action, as in the following lines:
We wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
    This debt we pay to human guile;
The poet also uses rhyming words in every end of the lines that echoes the complex emotions of the persona of the poem. The frequent use of commas contributes to the slow movement and heavy plea of the persona in the third stanza:
We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream otherwise,
            We wear the mask!
In addition, the poem is composed of cinquains, quatrains and sestets and has a perfect masculine rhyme. It has different rhyme scenes in every stanza:
We wear the mask that grins and lies, a
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— a
    This...

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