Paul Laurence Dunbar

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Paul Laurence Dunbar

by English 102
August 4, 1995

Outline

Thesis: The major accomplishments of Paul Laurence Dunbar's life during 1872 to 1938 label him as being an American poet, short story writer, and novelist.

I. Introduction II. American poet
A. Literary English
B. Dialect poet
1. "Oak and Ivy"
2. "Majors and Minors"
3. "Lyrics of Lowly Life"
4. "Lyrics of the Hearthside"
5. "Sympathy" III. Short story writer
A. Folks from Dixie (1898)
B. The Strength of Gideon and Other Stories (1900)
C. The Heart of Happy Hollow (1904) IV. Novelist
A. The Uncalled (1898)
B. The Love of Landry (1900)
C. The Fanatics (1901)
D. The Sport of the Gods (1902) V. Conclusion

Paul Laurence Dunbar attended grade schools and Central High School in Dayton, Ohio. He was editor of the High School Times and president of Philomathean Literary Society in his senior year. Despite Dunbar's growing reputation in the then small town of Dayton, writing jobs were closed to black applicants and the money to further his education was scarce. In 1891, Dunbar graduated from Central High School and was unable to find a decent job. Desperate for employment, he settled for a job as an elevator operator in the Callahan Building in Dayton.

The major accomplishments of Paul Laurence Dunbar's life during 1872 to 1938 labeled him as an American poet. Dunbar had two poetic identities. He was first a Victorian poet writing in a comparatively formal style of literary English. Dunbar's other identity was that of the dialect poet, writing lighter, usually humorous or sentimental work not merely in the Negro dialect but in other varieties as well: Irish, once in German, but very frequently in the hoosier dialect of Indiana. There is good reason to assert, however, that the sources of Dunbar's dialect verse were in the real language of the people. The basic charge of this criticism can be stated in the words of a recent critic, Jean Wagner. Dunbar's dialect is, he says, "at best a secondhand instrument, irredeemably blemished by the degrading things imposed upon it by the enemies of the Black people" (Revell, Paul Laurence Dunbar, pg. 84). One of the most popular of Dunbar's dialect poems was and is "When Malindy Sings" which builds upon the natural ability of the race in song and is acknowledged to be Dunbar's tribute to his mother's spontaneous outbursts of singing as she worked in the kitchen. The message of the poem is of praise for simplicity of spirit and the love of God.

Another of Dunbar's superb poems is entitled "Sympathy", written in 1895:

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 opens
And the faint perfume from its
chalice steals-
I know what the caged bird feels!

I know why the caged bird beats
his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;
For he must fly back to his perch
and cling
When he fain would be on the
bough a-swing;
And a pain still throbs in the
old, old scars
And they pulse again with a keener
sting-
I know why he beats his wings!

I know why the caged bird sings
at me,
When his wing is bruised and
his bosom sore,-
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from
his heart's deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven
he flings-
I know why the caged bird sings!

"Sympathy" ("sym" meaning with and "pathy" meaning...
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