“Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

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Kaitlyn Williams

Honors 11

Mrs. Mosier
1 February 2012
Part 1: Exploring the Meaning of a Poem
In the poem “Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar, he describes himself, trapped like a bird in a cage, symbolizing himself being trapped somewhere he has no desire to be. In the first stanza, the author describes a delightful scene with “the sun bright on the upland slopes” (Dunbar 2). This might have been the author describing his life when he graduated high school, thinking he had so many options with life. After reading into the second stanza the mood changes, almost becoming gloomy. The author feels caged like this bird as he is trying to “beat his wing/ Till its blood is red on the cruel bars ;”( Dunbar 8-9). Dunbar was held back from many things, including furthering his career because of the racial profiling during the civil war. The author “knows what the caged bird feels” (Dunbar 1), because he too was also held back. In the last stanza, Dunbar goes on to tell about the bird singing, and wanting to get out of this caged in dungeon so bad “that he sends [a prayer] from his heart’s deep core”( Dunbar 19). This is symbolizing the author’s deep need to escape into something more than what he is, a lonely poet working at a hotel. In the literature book, it gives information that enlightens the understanding the meaning behind the poem, the book states in the author’s paraphrased biography that the author, Paul Dunbar’s, first job after high school was an elevator cage opener. In my opinion the author felt trapped at this job, because of his race and the time period. Dunbar had been denied jobs that he truly wanted in business and journalism positions. In my opinion, the author felt held back and it was shown in this poem describing himself as a, “Caged bird that beats his wing” (Dunbar 8). Dunbar uses great descriptive words so that you can almost see the bird in the cage, being trapped and bleeding. I feel the author almost feels desperate to get out of this position, he wanted to go far in life and instead he’s trapped in a cage because of the prejudices in this time era. Over and over the author refers to himself as the bird, that he now “knows what the caged bird feels” (Dunbar 1).

Part 2: Author Biography
In the 1900s, Paul Laurence Dunbar was described as one of the most popular poets of his time. Dunbar was also the first African American to acquire fame in this nation and also across many other countries. (Paul Laurence Dunbar 1). Dunbar faced a lot of different challenges when trying to become a successful writer. One thing Dunbar did not lack was intelligence and talent in everything that had to do with literature. By the age of sixteen he had already published a book of his own poetry titled, “Dayton Herald” (Paul Laurence Dunbar 3). Dunbar was successful in high school; he thought when he graduated he would go on to greater things. Dunbar set out to find his own way as a journalist after graduation, but after being denied all base jobs he could applied for, he found a job as an elevator operator, only making a minimal four dollars a week (Paul Laurence Dunbar 3). Dunbar was inspired by many of the great authors and poets of all time, like Williams Shakespeare, John Keats, and Alfred Tennyson. Also, in his free time he wrote his own poetry and articles to publish (Paul Laurence Dunbar 3). Dunbar’s writing soon attracted many people. He gave the opening statement to the Western Association of Writers in1892, and his twenty-six- line poem attracted the attention of many in the audience, such as Newton Matthew, who became one of his greatest supporters (Paul Laurence Dunbar 3).  He was also acknowledged by other past times authors such as Booker T. Washington, who described him as the “Poet Laureate of the Negro Race”. (Paul Laurence Dunbar 1). Dunbar’s poetry was so popular because it was filled with humor, pathos and the true struggles of the African American population, in and out of...
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