We Wear The Mask #2
We can never judge a book by its cover or rather; we should never judge an individual unless we have experienced what they have. An individual might portray different characteristics but from within what they feel is undefined. The true nature of an individual is unveiled only if the individual is willing to share his feeling and emotions. This is the same message being conveyed by Paul Laurence Dunbar in his poem “We Wear the Mask “. The author, who lived in the 19th century, was trying to convey a message that, displayed several features and also gave poetic thoughts as it examines the need for a unique way of beating around the bush in the world. The person speaks in the first person plural implying that the speaker was addressing a given group of individuals in society. The first stanza unveils the speaker to pay a debt to human slyness by wearing a mask that smirks and lies.
The poem has hidden pain and suffering that black slaves frequently stumbled upon. Dunbar’s main focus was to express the struggle for equality for the blacks. The mask, in this case, was the pain faced by the blacks that they struggled to hide from the whites or their owners so as not to show their weakness. The feelings would include being angry, facing frustrations, sadness, among other pains. His poem pinpoints the lies people display in society, and the hidden secrets behind our eyes. In this context, the slaves hid their pain in lies. In other situations, one might argue that the mask might display a lie to the observers or just to the individual wearing it. When imaging someone who has put on a mask, they real mask typically covers the face of the individual to come across the anonymity. This is the information Dunbar is trying to convey to the society with his poem of wearing a mask. In his line of “… hides our cheeks and shades our eyes”, the writer is talking about individuals in society who have hidden their facial emotions meaning that one might be smiling while in the real sense they are crying (Dunbar 263).
In his first line, he tries to make the society understand that individuals succumb in slavery. This is understood when one reads the line “The debt we pay to human guile” where he is referring to the struggle slaves had. To him, he used the term “debt” to elaborate the way owners of slaves did not give a damn of what their slaves went through, but rather cared about what they received despite the pain the slaves went through. This line is of significance in the poem because it bears a description of the whole events based on two crucial individuals, the slaves, and masters. In the fourth and fifth lines, “With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, and mouth with myriad subtleties”, Dunbar outlines that, despite the hard times the slaves faced; currently, there is going to be some changes that will pave the way for equality. This first stanza is an explanation of the masks the slaves wore and their reasons for doing so (Gardner 34).
Throughout his poem, Dunbar focuses on the African-American slaves whose needs are not considered in the society. He shifts his attention from the whites to the world. In lines 6-9, Dunbar questions why the world wants to known about the problems slaves face (Explanation of: ‘We Wear the Mask’ by Paul Laurence Dunbar 58). He tends to assume that these slaves are viewed as African-American rather than viewing slaves on an individual basis. He also argues that the world should wear a mask so that they can only see what the slaves want them to see. His aim is that the world should view them equally rather than as slaves and white. This idea is reasonable that wants the society to practice equality so as the world can stop wearing the mask. Paul Laurence Dunbar only hopes that his wishes are granted and that equality is embraced in society.
In the third stanza, the slaves tend to call on Christ for help. It appears to them that, not wearing a mask to Christ is the only answer. Religious faith was believed to conquer all obstacles that came their way. This way, the slaves felt their prayers were answered after they cried to Christ to hear their prayers and save them from the pain and sorrows they faced. They have to have a mask of how they are feeling and that everyone will support the fact that, it is difficult to hold on to emotions and consider sharing the emotions with someone whom they considered would salvage them. To them, crying to Christ unmasked was important and that would help them feel relieved sharing their problems with Him. Hiding from the world to Dunbar is not always a solution and that one must at one point or the other, be able to have with them someone whom they can confide in and share their emotions without fear (Overview: ‘We Wear the Mask’ 109).
In the discussion of cases related to racism, it is important to consider the way one interprets the idea. This is explained in line 12 and 13 of the poem where Dunbar uses metaphors to refer to given things in his surroundings. For example, he referred to black slaves as clay. In real life situation, clay is always smooth when wet and hard when dry. He associates slaves to being firm, rigid and angry. If the whites pressure them, they will tend to unmask what is hidden under their masks. If all slaves displayed what they felt, then the situation might be different. In line 13, Dunbar is trying to emphasize the fact that, putting an end to slavery is not going to be a simple task to accomplish. On the other hand, he understands that a long way to go lies ahead of what the slaves and whites would undergo before the change would take place. In line 14 and 15, Dunbar tends to see a future where racism will become past tense. To him, based on his thoughts, the world does not understand the problem with racial injustice and that that they will never understand it. : we wear the mask” in this case puts emphasize on the main point of the poem that is based on two perceptions where the first one signifies the physical mask, and the other indicates the emotional torture of individuals in society (Keeling 59).
The poem uses the idea of wearing a mask to eliminate the world from entering into the thoughts of an individual. From my point of view, I support Dunbar’s arguments since each and every day; individuals wear masks for different reasons. I being part of the process with or without my knowledge hence making it a second nature. We, therefore, need to change our perception of how we handle different situations. To some extent, we should analyze how far we have come comparing ourselves to the age of the poem of Dunbar. At times, we do not need to wear a mask but we find ourselves doing so. His point of the view of the world on slavery was of significance. The ignorance slaves receive at times is always reflected in their actions (Paul 67). Besides, why should an individual care about individuals who do not care about their welfare?
The tears of the slaves while crying to Christ to save them indicated the desperation of the slaves to a succumbing extend. They, however, in Dunbar’s poem got what they yearned for hence making the writer’s statements correct that he would see a brighter future. In the time of slavery, Dunbar was right to say that black slaves had to wear a mask that signified protection against their masters. His general view from my point of view was to explain how the world views racism and how it handles related cases. To him, what individuals are trying to avoid is what they receive in return while trying to fight reality. Perhaps if the world would embrace the concept of creating peace with racism, then the wearing of masks would fade slowly with time. This would help the world view the true colors of individuals who seem to be equal. This removal of the mask would make Dunbar happy if his visions came true. Dunbar uses different literary devices such as personification, imagery and tone to represent the dreadful discrimination African Americans faced in the 19th century.
“Explanation of: ‘We Wear the Mask’ by Paul Laurence Dunbar.” LitFinder Contemporary Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2000. LitFinder. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.
“Overview: ‘We Wear the Mask’.” Poetry for Students. Ed. Sara Constantakis. Vol. 40. Detroit: Gale, 2012. Literature Resource Center. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.
“Paul Laurence Dunbar.” LitFinder Contemporary Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2007. LitFinder. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.
Dunbar, Paul Laurence. “We Wear the Mask.” Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar: With the Introduction to “”Lyrics of Lowly Life”” by William Dean Howells. Paul Laurence Dunbar. Dodd, Mead, 1913. 112. LitFinder. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.
Gardner, Jared. “We Wear The Mask (Book Review).” Modern Philology 98.3 (2001): 500. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.
Keeling, John. “Paul Dunbar And The Mask Of Dialect.” Southern Literary Journal 25.2 (1993): 24. Literary Reference Center Plus. Web. 14 Nov. 2015.