We Wear The Mask Analysis: Paul Laurence Dunbar was a U.S. author who rose to prominence through his work written in black dialect. On June 27, 1872, he was born in Dayton, Ohio, U.S.— to freed black slave parents from Kentucky.
He was the first-ever black writer in the history of the U.S. to make a concerted attempt to live by his writings and one of the first to attain national prominence.
His first three novels—including “The Uncalled“ (1898), which reflected his own spiritual problems—were about white characters. His last, sometimes considered his best, was “The Sport of the Gods” (1902), concerning an uprooted black family in the urban North.
Students can also check the English Summary to revise with them during exam preparation.
Though he continued to write and publish, his health was deteriorating by the day. He relied on alcohol to check his persistent coughing only worsened his illness. By the winter of 1905, he was fatally ill. He passed away on February 9, 1906, at age thirty-three.
During the final years of his life, Dunbar wrote prolifically, including numerous poems, short stories, novels, lyrics, and various other narrative works. Although he passed away at a very young age, his dialect poetry legacy influenced many writers of the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s.
Summary of We Wear the Mask
This poem is written as a response to the daily lives of a black resident in the post-civil war period in America. Improvements in the blacks’ lifestyle marked the Harlem Renaissance period; however, the mindset limited the growth only to the book’s pages. The situation on the real ground was entirely different.
Racism was an integral part of their lives. The poet has compared the wearing of the mask to hide the true emotions of a person to the suffering against the oppression faced by the black people and yet putting up a wholly another picture for the world to view.
The hardships we hide behind our smiles will never be recognized by society. It camouflages reality and builds an impression of something that is misleading to hide the harsh reality.
Structure of We Wear the Mask
The poem is a variation of a rondeau. It is a three-stanza poem. The first and the last stanzas are alike, with the second stanza being comparatively shorter.
The fifteen lines are divided into quintains, i.e., five lines, quatrain, i.e., four and a sestet, i.e., six lines. The refrain “We wear the mask” is mentioned in the second and third stanzas’ last lines.
The rhyming pattern used in the poem is of type AABBA AABC AABBAC with the C referring to the refrain after the second and the third stanza.
The poem also uses iambic tetrameter, which implies that there are four feet in each line.
Literary Devices in We Wear the Mask
An apostrophe is a speech figure where a reference is made to a person or inanimate object that is not directly present in the scene. The lines “O great Christ, our cries” are an example of the use of an apostrophe.
Imagery is a technique used to make the readers aware of the situation utilizing all five senses. It makes them envision an object in their mind, which has been described in the poem. Phrases like “torn and bleeding hearts”, “We smile”, and “Beneath our feet” are perfect examples of visual imagery.
The use of personification is seen in many instances in the poem. In the line “Let the world dream”,, the world has been personified. In the phrase “We wear the mask that grins and lies,” the mask has been given human traits and emotions.
A refrain is a line or a set of lines that appears at the end of a stanza. The phrase “We wear the mask” has been used as a refrain at the end of the second and the third stanzas.
Detailed Analysis of We Wear The Mask
“We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.”
The first line is the replication of the name of the poem itself.
We all wear a mask that makes it appear like we’re happy. But somewhere down the line, it is a lie. The mask covers our cheeks and hurls a shadow over our eyes to hide our true emotions.
We smile despite feeling like our world has collapsed.
The underlying reference is made to the Afro-Americans. This stanza’s ending line points to the expected “subtleties” or the refined behaviour that black people were supposed to portray in front of the elite white population.
“Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us while
We wear the mask.”
These lines highlight the idea that society sees only those things it wants to see and overlooks the other grim parts of life. It chooses to ignore and remain blind to the most critical and difficult situations which demand an answer.
The devastating situation of the black slaves needed no special mention. Their plight was not unknown to the people- but they chose to neglect it.
The degree of the sufferings was huge. But action taken against it was next to nothing. They were left unattended to suffer to the farthest for centuries.
The last two lines bring forward a tone of mockery, where the poet tells the world to act blind to the cause of the black population and let them suffer.
“We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!”
These lines embark upon the superiority of the Almighty. We are mere puppets in his hands, and he is the ultimate Saviour.
The slaves always wore a smile on their faces and hid their sufferings. The term “tortured souls” portray how severe their torment was.
They prayed at the end of the day, and the Lord was the only one to identify the real anguish hidden behind those smiles. They told the Lord about the hostilities they suffered from. He is their lone friend and guide.
They confide in the Almighty. They never lost hope and looked forward to the times when the Lord would liberate them from their agony.
The poet repeats to wear a mask to hide the real sufferings from the world. The people can remain in a state of ignorance and stay oblivious to the hardships faced by the black people.
What literary devices are in We Wear the Mask?
The literary devices used in We Wear the Mask are juxtaposition, repetition of consonant sounds, extended metaphor, and personification.
Is We Wear the Mask a metaphor?
Metaphor: The poet has used the extended metaphor of “mask” to illustrate the false persona that people put on to hide their real feelings and true emotions from other people. … The poet has used visual imagery such as, “torn and bleeding hearts”; “We smile” and “Beneath our feet.”
What is the alliteration in We Wear the Mask?
Also, in line 5, we get some alliteration (repetition of initial consonant sounds) in the words “mouth” and “myriad.” Just like before, the repetition of that M sound helps to accent the words even more and gets us thinking about that mechanical sound of “mouth[ing]” subtleties.
What does We Wear the Mask symbolize?
The mask symbolizes how blacks must hide who they really are to navigate in white society. Because they are viewed as stereotypes, blacks must pretend to be what white people expect them to be. A mask hides one’s true identity.
Is the poem We Wear the Mask ironic?
In the poem “We Wear the Mask,” Paul Laurence Dunbar is using irony to express the idea that African-Americans are putting on a false face (the “mask”) to the rest of the world. The irony is in the fact that they appear to be happy, because of the mask, but in reality they are not.