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"We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar is a renowned piece of literature that has been the subject of various literary criticisms over the years

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Cassie Weigel Mr. David Olsen, Instructor ENGA 202-07 Intro to Literary Studies 31 March, 2005 "We Wear the Mask" "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar is a renowned piece of literature that has been the subject of various literary criticisms over the years. Because of the poem's indirectness and generalized ambiguity, the interpretation of the "we" that wears the "mask" and why they do so is left unanimously undisclosed. It is up to the interpreter and the support given by the interpreter to produce a valid representation of the meaning that lies beneath the mask. One such analysis of "We Wear the Mask" is presented by Peter Revell on page 71 of his book Paul Laurence Dunbar, which was published in 1979 by G. K. Hall & Co. Unfortunately, the given argument nearly shames the profoundness of Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem with its brevity and lack of sufficient support. In Revell's short and weak interpretation of Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask," he suggests that it is impossible for the non-black reader to draw inspiration or admonition from the subject matter, and that it was written from within a black experience and exclusively for a black audience. ...read more.


Dunbar even excelled in a school where he was the only black student. He was continually recognized for his wit and intelligence by his white classmates and teachers who found his nature to be quite amiable (Brawley 8). Therefore, it would seem unfitting for Dunbar to purposefully exclude and discriminate against other races in his poem by saying "we" and only referring to blacks. One could argue that Dunbar's approach to saying "we" does not necessarily infer that he would be excluding other races in discriminatory terms. However, one would have to see it this way after recognizing in the third stanza Dunbar's religious reference to Christ and the "clay" that is "vile." With the close proximity of "Christ" and "clay," one can assume that the clay refers to the raw material with which God made man and that the vileness of the clay refers to the original sin placed upon man after Adam and Eve's fall into temptation. In that context, the religious idea that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ combined with the use of "we" would lead one to believe that Dunbar's "we" applies to all children of God, or all people. If Dunbar were purposefully referring to blacks alone, that would mean he believed only black people were deserving of God's saving grace. ...read more.


It wasn't until the "mask" of slavery was uncovered that people became aware of the injustices and despicable treatment that certain people in the United States placed on blacks in the past. And it wasn't until many years afterward that this incongruity with the respect for black human life was seen by the majority of people for what it truly was, as ignorant and unfair. Dunbar is claiming that society allows all different forms of "masks" to serve as excuses for leading lives of self-fulfillment and self-sufficiency, so one can justifiably ignore the needs of those around them; and slavery was one such "mask" that profoundly affected Dunbar personally. Revell failed to see the possibility that "We Wear the Mask" could represent anything but the turmoil the black slaves endured because of Dunbar's disposition as a descendent of slaves. However, the interpretation that this poem speaks to all people is supported more fully through the text as a result of Dunbar's use of the universal "we" in coercion with religious reference. All people wear this "mask" and until one figures out the most appropriate way to take it off, "the world dream otherwise" and all will continue to fool and be fooled by the world's countless masks. ...read more.

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