Explication of We Wear Our Mask

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In the poem, “We Wear the Mask’, the narrator, Paul Lawrence Dunbar, expresses the pain African American experienced during the slave trade and how the slaves learned to suppress their emotions. The poem shows a contrast between African American’s social faces and their “bleeding hearts”. The tone of the poem is not a corrective tone, but rather an explanatory one. In considering the time period, it would make sense that the narrator would be careful about insulting the white community. In the first stanza the tone starts as explanatory in just speaking of the masquerade and state of oppression. Then the last two stanzas are very matter of fact. When the narrator sarcastically states, “Why should the world be otherwise”. Showing there is no out, but rather the way society is.

The poem’s setting lacks a clear view of any physical details of its setting. Knowing the narrator is an oppressed African American of the time, gives some details. Yet, the poem itself gives no physical location. However, the poem is a reflective gathering of knowledge the speaker has observed over time to develop the mental setting. Giving the poem an oppressed mood. A reader could identify the narrator’s mood when reading the figurative language. Since the poem expresses the narrator's deep feelings as an oppressed black, it also expresses a paradox. On the one hand, it hides its central issue not mentioning blacks or racial prejudice. In other words, the poem itself wears a mask. On the other hand, it openly parades feelings as a frustrated black across the page. The poem conceals everything and reveals everything at the same time. Then there is the abundant imagery. Such as the “mask” of Line 1 and identifying it as the false emotional façades blacks use to avoid provoking their oppressors. Another example is “long the mile”, referring to the journey to freedom for the African American community. All of which created a mood of oppression. There is also the universal symbolism...
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