“Sympathy” by Paul Laurence Dunbar

Topics: Meaning of life, Poetry, African American / Pages: 8 (1791 words) / Published: Dec 9th, 2012
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



Cited: Burch, Charles Eaton. "Dunbar 's Poetry in Literary English." The Southern Workman 50.10 (Oct. 1921): 469-473. Rpt. in Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism. Ed. Dennis Poupard. Vol. 12. Detroit: Gale Research, 1984. Literature Resource Center. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. Dunbar, Paul L. "Sympathy." The Language of Literature. Evanston, IL: McDougal Littell, 2000. Print. Editorial Board, Monitor 's. "Women on the Front Lines of Faith vs. State." Christian Science Monitor. 28 Dec 2011: n.p. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 29 Feb 2012. Gerhard, Jane, and Cynthia McCown. "Paul Laurence Dunbar." American Decades. Ed. Judith S. Baughman, et al. Detroit: Gale, 2003. Gale Biography In Context. Web. 29 Feb. 2012. Porter, Amanda. Personal interview. 14 February 2012 Williams, Greg. Personal interview. 14 February 2012

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