Dunbar Essay

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In his poem “Sympathy,” Paul Laurence Dunbar develops the conceit of a caged bird to retain humanistic understanding of what slavery truly does to a person. Dunbar induces sympathetic emotions and calls for his readers understand his emotions through the use of the conceit. Dunbar backs up his feelings with vivid images while addressing slavery as the clear evil that constrains African Americans of their human rights. In stanza one, Dunbar contrasts the image of a caged bird to beautiful images of nature in its maximum tranquility. A bird, which is meant to be a symbol of freedom and uncontrolled ability, is attached by an immovable cage. This cage prevents the bird from existing in its natural way. Through the contrast of the caged bird and the most unlimited images of nature that follow, Dunbar reveals that restricting a living creature is inhibiting it only from what is most basic and fundamental. Through the use of these images, Dunbar ultimately reveals slavery as an unjust and immoral institution. Like caging a bird, constraining slaves strips them of the natural freedoms they are entitled to. Through the use of vivid descriptions of the bird’s struggle and a painful tone, Dunbar brings forth the brutality of slavery and calls for his readers to sympathize for the slaves. Stanza two transitions from stanza one in a very gloomy way. The same bird now “beats his wing/Till its blood is red on the cruel bars.” A sense of urgency and panic can be felt as the bird now realizes it is weak in its cage. The bird mutilates itself in its attempt to break free, but his attempt fails. Through this violent image, Dunbar reveals the true nature of slavery and what it does to slaves. Just like the bird, the slaves were kept constantly trying to break free and fight for what they were being deprived from. However, “a pain still throbs in the old, old scars,” and slaves are left to suffer through an intense pain that is a result of their resistance. Dunbar communicates a...
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