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An Interpretation of Paul Laurence Dunbar's Poem Sympathy and We ...

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An Interpretation of Paul Laurence Dunbar's Poem Sympathy and We Wear the Mask

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  • April 13, 2005
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Throughout African American history, African Americans have used poems as a way of describing the African American condition in America. One poet who was widely known for using poetry to describe the condition of African Americans in America was Paul Laurence Dunbar. Paul Laurence Dunbar was one of the most prolific poets of his time. Paul Laurence Dunbar used vivid, descriptive and symbolic language to portray images in his poetry of the senseless prejudices and racism that African Americans faced in America. Throughout this essay I will discuss, describe and interpret Sympathy and We Wear the Mask. Both Sympathy and We Wear the Mask were written by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

To begin with, the poem Sympathy suggests to the reader a comparison between the lifestyle of the caged bird, and the African American. Paul Laurence Dunbar's center of attention of Sympathy is how the African American identifies and relates to the frustrations and pain that a caged bird experiences. Dunbar begins the poem by stating "I know what the caged bird feels, alas!"(African American Literature page 922). This shows the comparison of a caged bird to an African American. Dunbar wrote this poem with vivid, descriptive, and symbolic language throughout the entire poem. Dunbar uses this vivid, descriptive and symbolic language to stress his point that some one tied up in bondage and chains is not privileged enough to enjoy the simple but unique parts of life. In the first stanza of Sympathy Dunbar wrote: I know what the caged bird feels, alas!

When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,-
And the river flows like a stream of glass:
When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,
And the faint perfume from its chalice steals-
I know what the caged bird feels!
The first stanza is representative of the symbolic speech in which Paul Laurence Dunbar uses to describe the condition of African Americans. The first stanza also states...