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Paul Laurence Dunbar - Literary Analysis

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We Wear the Mask by P.L. Dunbar
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Figurative Language & Theme
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Figurative Language & Theme

This page contains our class work for the work's theme and figurative language.

Figurative Language:
    Figurative language is defined as language that communicates ideas beyond the literal meaning of words. The use of figurative language can make descriptions and unfamiliar or difficult ideas easier for the reader to understand. The most popular types of figurative language, know as figures of speech, are similes, metaphors, personification, and hyperboles. This poem also uses a symbol.  It is a mask. 
    In the poem, "We Wear the Mask," there were several occurrences of figurative language. At the very beginning of the poem, the line "We wear the mask that grins and lies" is an example of personification; the mask is given himan-like abilities. In this poem, the mask grins and lies, which hides the true feeling or facial expression on the face of the person or group of people, such as African Americans, wearing the "mask."
    In the line "With torn and bleeding hearts we smile," a hyperbole is used to exaggerate and place emphasis on the pain and psychological suffering that the African Americans were subject to at this time. Althought the hearts of many blacks were "torn and bleeding," they put on a mask which led many whites to believe that the African Americans truly were happy.
    Lines fourteen and fifteen state: "But let the world dream otherwise, We wear the maks." Personification is once again used because the world as an object cannot dream, but the people of the world can. The words "But let the world dream otherwise" refer to the fact that the African Americans knew what hey were really feeling inside, but since many blacks put on a mask, other white Americans believed everything was going well. No matter how much sufferieng and pain the blacks were subjected to, they would let the world dream of happiness, because the masks concealed every true emotion felt by the African Americans.

    In "We Wear the Mask," the point that PL is trying to convey to the reader is that our faces do not always show our real emotions. In society today, many people conceal their true feelings by changing their facial expression to a smile, rather than tears or a frown. Throughout the 1890's when this poem was written, many African Americans were subjected to racial prejudice and legal discrimination. African Americans were also forced to follow informal rules, known as racial etiquette, which emphasized their status as second-class citizens. Also in the 1890's, minstrel shows were a popular form of entertainment, in which white men with blackened faces performed comedy acts. The white men mimicked African-American speech and behavior, and sang sentimental songs while playing musical instruments.
    As a result of the racial discrimination, African Americans were very hurt and angered, because they just wanted to be considered equal to the white race. African Americans often wore facial expressions of false happiness and joy, ecause they were not allowed to realize their full potential under the strict rules that they had. Even though some African-American men and women wre able to read and write well, they were not allowed to read and write freely because that would have exhibited equality to the white race.
    Several lines the our selected poem suppoert the main idea of the theme, and some are even forms of figurative language. "It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes," is a line that explains that the maks did not allow white people to see the tear and pain African Americans experienced. "With torn and bleeding hearts we smile" is another line that also shows that the black people put on a mas of happiness, even though they were truly angry or sad. "We sing, but oh, the clay is vile" is another line in "We Wear the Mask" that expresses a sense of people not being able to show their true feelings.
    We think that when Paul Dunbar wrote this poem, that he wanted to promote his readers to express their feelings on the inside, regardless of the social barriers faced by any individual or race.

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This information was put together by Krista M. and Sarah H.