We Wear The Mask
The poem opens with a declaration that we wear the mask that conceals our honest feelings. It goes on to insist the depth of the pain and suffering that the masks are trying to cover up. Towards the end, we are made to understand that the politeness and humbled emotions are only a disguise of painful truth which covers them. These masks certainly do not offer any favors to anyone.
Who is the speaker?
The speaker is an African-American speaking for the black people
What is the structure of the poem?
The poem employs three rhymes (a, b, c) in the whole poem of an iambic lyric, expressing pain and anger brought about by black oppression and racial prejudice. The first stanza introduces the theme and the symbolism of the mask.
The first couplet (aa) confines the speaker in a group by using the first persona plural, we. The group is African Americans or African American writers specifically. In whichever the image, they wear a grinning mask that hides the honest feelings. The image of the grinning mask represents an old African mask applied for the ceremony, covering the face without the eyes of the wearer in an impersonal expression. Therefore, the mask portrays a divine dignity, something spiritual and mysterious, predicting a terrible retribution to the opponent or enemy. The image of the mask awakens the constant indignation blacks endured by having to conceal their honest feelings in a host society. They had to appear to be complacent and to agree to the prevailing conditions of their master. The mask is, therefore, symbolic of racial prejudice.
The second set (bb) shows that the inner experience of the African Americans is exactly the opposite of the outer image. The happy face is maliciously fixed on them in the game of compliance that they must play with the individuals in power. In real life, their hearts are being destroyed by this inhuman torture. The final line of the stanza completely does not rhyme with the entire part of the stanza and does not form part of the set (c) but it shows that as they put on the mask of fulfillment, blacks are also forced into speaking total lies about their agreement to the prevailing conditions.
The poem has used three stanzas, five lines in the first stanza, four lines in the second stanza, and six lines in the last stanza. The first stanza contains two sets of two lines that rhyme and one do not rhyme. Stanza two has three lines succeeded by the title of the poem.
The public neither admits the unjust condition of black people nor acknowledges complicity with the suffrage, maybe because such sympathy for the black race would invite a great sensitivity it never seems to have.
The third and last stanza of the poem comprises of five lines that are succeeded by the title of the poem that crowns the whole work. The black choir singing in a church could be printed here. Nevertheless, the listener should not be cheated; he says, for behind the song is great suffrage. Life seems lengthy to those who have to act a part. The closing two lines do not rhyme completely (ac).
What primarily is the poem about and how do you know that?
The poem is basically about suffrage and hidden pain that is destroying the inner soul without openly expressing it. That’s why there are masks worn to conceal them. The African American as depicted by the author in the poem conceals their pain, anguish and frustration from the whites, and even their fellow blacks. The blacks could not publicly reveal their inner feelings about being maltreated by the whites. Hence, they could risk retaliatory attacks. The black society also feared to express their true feelings even to their colleagues given that the sense of defeat and desperate situations would have made it hard to compose and reveal deep anxiousness upon the beloved ones. This meant that black had to wear masks that implied happiness and fulfillment while on the true impression it meant acute suffering and pain. The poem also suggests that black people had been relegated to the humblest level of society which means that they had to attend lowly established schools and go for menial jobs like trench digging, shoe shining and servants.
What do you expect from the title? Does the poem deliver this? How?
The reader expects a people (the black people) who are tired and completely exhausted from the drums of oppression, racial prejudice, human indignity, frustrations, pretense and imposture. Also people who are desperate for recognition and freedom. However, the poem itself puts on a mask (“We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar: The Poetry Foundation”).
If it surprises you why might the author have chosen this title?
The title is ironic as the struggles what the mask is. At times in life, we are forced to attend to the things that we honestly do not want to do. We put on the mask and pretend that are happy yet we are acting. This is an artificial face. The false expression that the black society had on them, people thought that they were happy doing the jobs they did for the white society, in reality they were not happy (“We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar: The Poetry Foundation”).
I think that the writer used the idea of wearing the mask so as prevent the world from coming into contact with the thoughts of each and every person. He was right in the manner in which he discussed the ideas of the poem. Each and everyday people wear masks for different reasons. He meant that people must, therefore, change their perceptions of the world. The wearing of the mask has therefore been used metaphorically. It represents the different situations that people face in their day to day life. The poem can also be used to analyze where we as human beings have come from. The point of argument he took when talking about slaves and slavery was also very vital to the understanding of what have happened (Dunbar).
Another instance where he uses metaphor is when he talks of the tears of the slaves who were crying to Christ to help them. This showed how the desperate the slaves were. At some point, the slaves got what they were asking for. His sentiments that one day there would be a bright future comes true as the slaves manage to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Even during the slavery, they had to wear a mask that was meant to protect them from their masters. In this poem, it can, therefore, be said that he wanted to show how the world takes racism and what it does to solve such cases. According to him, if the world wanted to solve the issue of racism, then the first thing that they needed was to make peace. When they made peace with racism, the people will not have to wear the mask anymore. The world will, therefore, see each and every person as being equal. When the people will not have to wear the mask anymore. Dunbar will be very happy when this happens.
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. 4 Dec. 2015.
“We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar : The Poetry Foundation.” Poetry Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.
“We Wear the Mask | Academy of American Poets.” Poets.org | Academy of American Poets. N.p., n.d. Web. 4 Dec. 2015.