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Poetry

  • Date Submitted: 03/16/2015 09:08 PM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 62.1 
  • Words: 774
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THEMES
Racism
“We Wear the Mask” is an open complaint about the racism in America in the 1890s, when racial violence was common. Dunbar describes the basic fear African Americans everywhere lived with, forcing them to hide beneath a social mask so as not to reveal themselves, their feelings, or true opinions. Blacks were persecuted for the slightest reasons, and the poem suggests they have to act a part and stay in their places. The mask grins or pretends to be happy, possibly a reference to the stereotype of the happy and dancing plantation slave. The poet tells the truth, however, about his feelings. The smile is a lie. The poem protests that blacks in America are forced to wear a mask, to hide who they are, in order to survive.
The poem evokes the slavery African Americans endured in America for two and a half centuries. Although Dunbar lived after emancipation, the legacy of slavery continued through various social, legal, and psychological constraints. He was refused white-collar jobs because of his race and forced to work as an elevator boy. Blacks were constrained by Jim Crow laws in the South, denying them their right to vote or to get legal protection. They were economically enslaved by restrictive labor contracts and other unfair laws in the South, and in the North, they were denied jobs and housing. Racial segregation was the norm in American society.
Dunbar never denied his race, and in fact, made many statements on racial injustice. Other poems of his that comment on racism include “The Haunted Oak,” “Right's Security,” “The Warrior's Prayer,” “To the South on Its New Slavery,” “Frederick Douglass,” and “Ode to Ethiopia.” He made overt statements against lynching and racial stereotyping in his journalism. He made a plea for equal rights and assimilation of blacks into mainstream American life.
Deception
Though Dunbar made a breakthrough for his race by being accepted as the first famous African American poet, he felt he could not express himself...

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