Reading Response on “We Wear the Mask”
Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” attempts to convey that all of humanity wears a mask for basic survival. The poet ultimately conveys that since we cannot be true to ourselves we can’t expect the more from the world than lies.
Dunbar uses “we” as a general term for all of humanity, although he is not excluding himself from this generalization. We as a society have at one point felt the strain of what others decide who we should be based off gender and race. The mask is what we put on to hide our emotions while we grin and say “I’m fine” while we aren’t. “It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,-” refers to hiding our true emotions. Eyes are often portrayed as a window to the soul and what we truly feel. It our eyes are hidden, it is potentially easy to lie about what we feel. He says that wearing the mask is a “debt we pay to human guile”, human guile meaning cunning or treachery, he is implying that we have to wear the mask because we have lied for so long about our true feelings, it is now expected of us to continue this grand façade. Even as we are hurting, we mutter countless pleasantries, “And mouth with myriad subtleties” as we fool ourselves and everyone else. When someone asks “How are you?”, you are expected to say “fine” or “good”; any answer besides that we feel guilty for unloading our issues on someone or we are searching for pity.
Dunbar question why the world should know how we feel by our tears and sighs of defeat, but he implores for us to only let them see us with the mask on. Today, the poem seems to have foreshadowed how life would end up. Mainstream media paints a picture of how we should act and who we should be while they turn around and tell kids to be themselves. This double standard creates a divide in the identity of teenagers. Who they are at home can be the polar opposite of who they are at school or with their friends. The idea to be perfect pushes many teenagers to harming...
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