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We Wear the Mask Analysis

This is a line by line analysis of Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "We Wear the Mask".
by

Chelsea Meininger

on 20 March 2013

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Transcript of We Wear the Mask Analysis

We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar Line by line analysis:
Stanza Two Line by line analysis:
Stanza Three We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries To thee from tortured souls arise. We sing, but oh the clay is vile Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask. In counting all our tears and sighs? Why should the world be over-wise, We wear the mask that grins and lies, This debt we pay to human guile; It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,— Line by line analysis:
Stanza One Everyday people of all different backgrounds face adversity and yet somehow manage to put on their “happy face”. Some do it because it makes it easier to face the day. Others may do it to elude people from looking too deeply into their lives. The “mask” hides the blush from someone’s cheeks and the sorrow or anger in their eyes; people don’t always want others to know what they are thinking and the eyes give a lot away. Humans are intelligent creations and most of us can think outside of the box. This verse insinuates that we owe a debt to the cunningness of humans, especially since we can often see through each other’s shell. Sometimes a way bigger deal is made of things than is necessary People notice when other people aren’t smiling or acting happy. The speaker is expressing that it’s hard to feel what you feel and not care what other people think if you’re under a microscope. In this, the speaker using cynical mocking by pretending to invite the world to step back and just view people in their “masked condition” letting it be assumed that they are happy and that all is well. Through people’s pain and suffering and trying to hide it, they look to God. They pray with tortured souls, letting their voices rise up to God. “We sing” most likely represents that people carry on each day doing what they are supposed to and pretending to be satisfied with the status quo. The clay represents daily circumstances that the speaker finds vile. 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.

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.

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! With torn and bleeding hearts we smile, This one is very similar to the first stanza; people hide their emotions all the time. We smile because it is expected, and because we don’t want others to know, including ourselves, how unhappy we are. And mouth with myriad subtleties. This stanza is saying that we speak with so much restraint that we seldom ever express exactly what we mean. Beneath our feet, and long the mile; Each day we move; whether we are going to work, school, or just walking through our living room. The speaker uses “beneath our feet” to show that what is past is past “and long the mile” to express forward movement. But let the world dream otherwise, Again the speaker is using a cynical tone to propose an insincere invitation to let the world go on pretending and only seeing what it wants to see. We wear the mask! The people who can relate to the speaker and the speaker himself wear a daily façade of composure so that the world doesn’t bother them.
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