“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar – Analysis

“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar – Analysis

The poem, “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar is a fantastic read. Published in 1895, it presents the black folk collective. Like much of Dunbar’s writing, this poetic piece appeared as a reaction to his experience of being black in America. He has mocked the changes that the civil war brought for the African Americans. Their life seems to have improved, yet they were still subjected to racism and hardship in reality. Following his poetic passion, Dunbar has brilliantly described how his community survived the pain of oppression while wearing a mask.

The poem begins with a simple statement; the speaker says that his community wears a mask that signifies happiness and satisfaction. But they fake the world while showing their happy face. The mask helps them cover their strained face; it helps them hide their broken and battered hearts. Despite having pain, they smile and try to cheer the world by making thousands of careful minor tweaks. He further adds revelation of their sufferings and agony will not bring any noticeable change in society. Therefore, it’s better to please the world with a happy outlook.

While the first two stanzas deal with the purpose of masking, the final stanza talks about the faces hidden behind the mask. The writer touches various hearts while detailing the suffocating and heart-wrenching condition of the people who prefer hiding their miseries. They may look happy from outside, but inside, they cry out to God from the bottom of their tormented souls. They cry while recalling the never-ending struggle of their community. Despite having heartaches and pain, they pretend to be happy.

Major Themes in “We Wear the Mask” 

“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar carries themes like racism, prejudice, deceit, and hidden sufferings. This meaningful poem encompasses the turbulent life of the blacks. It shows how they are destined to suffer because of their color and race. For ages, they have tried to win prosperity, yet they are fooled by the ruling elites every time. The world treats them as inferiors. Although many among them are acclaimed for various reasons, they fail to get the desired comfort of life. In this poem, Dunbar tries to make the readers feel how they spend their lives pretending to be happy.

Instead of blowing the trumpet of their problems, the blacks have decided to hide their problems. This is because they know that the society they live in is a society where people believe that blacks live a peaceful life. Therefore, they prefer hiding their woes to get people to stick to their beliefs. In contrast, they cry out to God because only He knows the actual reason for their distress, their hard life, the pain they hide. Thus, they do not deceive society for a wrong cause: instead, they trick them to avoid any uncertainty.

“We Wear the Mask” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar Themes

Every writer and poet tries to grab the reader’s attention using powerful diction. Paul Dunbar, too, has used different literary and poetic devices to develop a meaningful bond between his ideas and the readers. The use of figurative language allows him to emphasize his thoughts so that the world would interpret the underlying message of the text. He has skillfully used figurative devices such as anaphora, metaphor, symbolism, imagery, irony, and allegory.

The first evident poetic element is repetition; he has repeated the verse, “we wear the mask,” to execute his ideas about the biting approach of the world toward the blacks. The second significant literary element that is used throughout the poem is a metaphor. The writer has used the mask as an extended metaphor to show how the world treats blacks even after ages. Similarly, words like “sighs,” “tears,” and “tortured souls,” and “torn and bleeding hearts” genuinely represent the bitter reality of their life. The clever use of such words make readers sympathetic toward the blacks.

Moreover, the use of vivid and sensational imagery has further added quality to the poem. Images like “To thee from tortured souls arise” and “we wear the mask” evoke mental images and other kinds of sense expressions among the readers. Besides these, Dunbar has also used irony in the poem. Putting the mask to fake the world is ironic because it contradicts reality. The use of this rhetoric device allows the writer to present his ideas using a contrastive approach.


To conclude, “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar analysis shows how cleverly the writer has discussed the problematic state of his community in this poem. The way he explains the purpose of wearing a mask makes this poem a commendable read.

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