Critical Analysis on Poem Paper Sample

Critical Analysis on Poem Paper Sample.

Order id #1955746438

Type of paper:Article Critique
Topic:Critical analysis on poem "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar
Pages:8 pages / 2200 words
Discipline:American Literature
Type of service:Article Critique
Format or citation style:MLA
Paper Instructions8 full pages besides the bibliography
double spaced
bibliography for research on other critical analysis used to support
all on the critical analysis of poem “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar
timesnew roman
12 font
ive included some of the sources sites i was wanting to use, however, you can add all that is needed.

My professor has two PhD’s and I have to make an A. He wants a critical analysis over this specific poem. I also sent a list of resources I was inteneding to use. He says at least 5 sources. However, which ever you see fit is great. it has to be 8 pages full and then the bibliography.





Experience, they say, is the best teacher. However, Paul Laurence Dunbar case is exceptional. Even though he was not born into slavery, his works portray a man who fully understood and related to the struggles that the slaves underwent. Born in Ohio, Dunbar is among the first black writers who took writing as a career. Before the civil war, blacks, if permitted, were only allowed to write for publications. It is only after the civil war were black writers allowed to write for pleasure and given the opportunity to incorporate personal styles and black oral tradition as well. As a son of emancipated slaves, he used his work to illustrate the daily life of the blacks on the plantation, blood split and tears shed. His incorporation of vernacular in his literary works like “Little Brown Baby,” “Scamp,” and “Wadin in de Crick” made him famous. The formal diction of Dunbar’s poems on black theme demands that their subjects are treated objectively.  A writing style that helps the reader, whether black or white to get inspired or admonished from the subject matter. This term paper seeks to analyse one of Dunbar’s outstanding work, the poem “We wear the Mask.” a moving cry from a suffering heart. The poem passionately presents personal regrets and the plight of the black man in America. It is also an apologia for the successive generations.

Analyzing Dunbar’s poems, there is a demonstration of mastery in poetic techniques like similes, rhyme and pictorial metaphors. There is also a consistent expression of emotions and feelings about the black race. It is imperative to categorize his poems as dialect poems, which utilizes dialect and folk humor (Brown, p. 32)

            In is work, Dunbar mostly revealed the pleasures of the plantation life at the expense of the pain that slaves endured. He used the same attitude through the lines of his poem “We Wear the Mask.” The cries of oppressed black and how they lead a dual existence in America, obscuring their true emotions with “smiling masks” while undergoing torment and suffering due to oppression. He attains this goal by using imagery, tone, paradox and rhyme scheme.

Literary analysis

            African slaves were given freedom, after the bloody civil war which is remembered for the grotesque instances. It is the same war that is responsible for the revolutionary freedom. The social life of countless Africans changed with their social upgrade from slaves to Afro-Americans. American citizenship was finally conferred to them after centuries of toiling in the plantations (Murphy et al, 140). The first stanza holds the myriad feelings that simultaneously encroaches the human emotions. The introductory lines in the poem “We wear the mask”, depicts to the reader of the dual life of the black, unveiling of the mask and the true emotions hidden beneath. The “We” in the first line connotes to Africa Americans who “grin” as it was wrong for them to show disquiet of their situation hence the need to lie about their contentment level. It is important to note that the use of “We” means the poet also includes himself and makes the reader get up close and personal while reading the poem. The poem then talks about “the mask,”. Masks are often used in social circles for fun and entertainment however it can also be a symbol of deceit and secrecy for one cannot know what is hidden behind a mask unless it is taken off. Saying that the mask grins and lies Dunbar connotes that “We” are sad. Grin is used to refer to happiness, but its pairing with lies implies that it is also a lie. In the second line, “It hides our cheeks and shades our eye,” he uses “us” to include everyone again. Hiding “our cheeks”, has been figuratively used to mean concealing emotions. When people are happy or embarrassed, the cheeks often turns red. Similarly, it turns pale or hallow when one is sick or depressed. Eyes also exhibit the overriding emotion so by “shading our eyes” the soul, state of mind and emotions we camouflaged our feelings. The poet might have implied that people are clouding themselves from the bitter truth. As a result, Dunbar speaks of the price paid in the next two lines. By saying “This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding heart we smile,”. He implies that blacks partake in that game instigated by the society to pretend that they were contented and yet there is no reason to be. “Torn bleeding hearts” illustrates how the game is taking an emotional toll on them. In addition to the emotional turmoil “Mouth with myriad subtleties” suggests that blacks do not say what they truly undergo but rather tell people what they want to hear.

             In the 2nd stanza, Dunbar goes on to ask a rhetorical question “Why should the world be over-wise, in counting all our tears and sighs?’. In context with clues from the 1st stanza, this question is sarcastic. Dunbar questions why the world is not privy to the injustice meted on the blacks?  He is in awe on the level of foolishness of the world.  The world’s selective vision is brought into question, remaining blind to astounding situations and maintain calm while also creating hype over trivialities and brought about them. The world thus uses its discretion to apply its wisdom. In the next line, he expounds on that by saying “In counting all our tears and sighs?” the speaker denotes that the world is counting tears of the blacks, however counting works best for quantifiable possession. Why then is it being used for tears and sighs?  Using this word, he nearly downplays the worth of the tears and sighs of the blacks but achieves in illustrating how people are overlooking the suffering of the African Americans (Braxton et al, p. 136). The quoted lines above illuminates the fact that the world could see the misery of the slaves without being told. The pain was too great and did not require special mention to notice. However, as much as the magnitude of the suffering was high, the notice and care were farfetched. The blacks were left to their fate, suffer alone for centuries in the endless pain with no hope of redress. He then uses sarcasm in the next two verses to show the idiocy of blacks wearing the mask. “Nay, let them only see us, while – We wear the mask.” Using theses verses the poet says to let the world continue being blind to the plight of blacks. They rather see the “masked faces” of the black to create the notion that they are contented. These lines convey the poet’s mockery of the world remaining blindfolded as the blacks suffered in silence without complain. At the same time, condemning the silence that the blacks adopted during that period of turmoil.

In the last stanza, the speaker paints the suffering of the black community. He begins with “We smile great Christ, our cries — To thee from tortured souls arise.” The use of visual descriptions like “tortured souls arise” is to emphasize on the deep suffering by the black community.  He says that the smiles on the faces of the black are mechanical and are only there to make other people feel good about themselves. By following it with “but, O great Christ, our cries” Dunbar shows the real face that when alone, the blacks truly have.  The slaves deceitful smiled and appeared content with their lives but during prayers the Lord, he alone could see the tears behind their smiles. The tears were as result of distress that they underwent. They resorted to religion to keep them steadfast and confided in God over the tribulations they faced with great hope that He could redeem them. The withholding of emotions so that the rest of the world does not know of the black people’s plight took a toll on them once they are out alone. In the third line “We sing, but oh the clay is vile.” The poet uses imagery to describe the sense of touch and hearing. Singing is what kept the spirits of the African slaves high and enabled them to carry on with their destitute life “But oh, the clay is vile”, The word clay is used to refer to the world, earth and vile something that is bad.  The quoted line means that the world is ugly, they were not happy with their situation. In the next verse, he develops on it saying Beneath our feet, and long the mile;”. The black community treads on the clay that injures them. It also symbolizes how they go through problems and the effects it has on their minds. “and long the mile;” has been used to show the period that the blacks have undergone tribulation and how they are still miles away from retribution. The trials seem to be unending, and the pain still plunders the community. “But let the world dream otherwise,” the speaker artfully uses the word Dream to mean “they can have different thoughts”. The world has been used to refer to their loved ones whom they shield from knowing of their suffering and getting troubled by the tribulations they undergo. They instead let them “dream” and think that everything is fine. The last line affirms that by saying, “We wear the Mask!” implying that they will continue to suffer to protect their loved ones from undergoing the tribulations too. In the 3rd stanza, Dunbar expresses the struggles of the blacks, the pain they go through and thoughts of them hiding (Murphy et al, p.144).


            It is easy for the world to know about happiness but it takes art to fake happiness when undergoing hardship. The theme of the poem is to highlight the hard times and atrocities meted out on the blacks during the slave period. The poem also depicts the strength and resilience of black people during the slave period. The mechanism the slaves used to deal with their state of servitude and conceal the hard truth from the blinded world. The tone employed is sarcastic and melancholic due to the world’s indifference and the sad state of the black community in America back then with the mask used as a symbol of scripted reality. The poem brings to focus the sufferings imposed on the minority due to race. This poem was written to castigate slavery but still in the 800 remains relevant in the current times as it schools the society and tries to salvage us from a recurrence of such kinds of social paradoxes.

 Main stylistic devices utilized in the poem and their impacts

1.Rhyme scheme

 Dunbar uses rhyme scheme artistly and makes the poem flow steadily, easy to read and memorize. The last words in each of the line in the first stanza rhymes is “lies” with “eyes” and “guile” with “smile.”  The second stanza is short, but “overwise” has been rhymed with “sigh.” In the last stanza “cries” and “arise” have been rhymed as well as “vile” and “mile.”

            Rhyming in every stanza plays a big role in tying in feelings associated with other words utilized in the poem. The rhyme scheme in a poem creates a massive impact on the reader as it creates an image that the reader can associate with the face behind the mask.


             The words used by the author impact ultimately on the reader and creates a mood associated with the poem. In the poem “We wear Mask” the tone is sad and depresses the reader hence achieving the intended goal of Dunbar. The first line in 1st stanza “with torn and bleeding hearts we smile,” sets the tone for the poem. The second stanza reinforces the tone by speaking of “tears and sighs” which associate with sadness. A trend that is also depicted in the last stanza as each line carries words that convey a somber mood. Words lie “cries” “tortured souls,” “vile” add perceptiveness to the poem and the feelings of the masked face transmitted to the reader (Morris et al, p.45).

 3. Paradox imagery

                 The author used this style to achieve a contradiction of the black consciousness represented by the speaker, expose the mask and show beneath the pain and suffering. In the third line of the 1st stanza “torn and bleeding hearts, we smile” the reader gets to relate with the suffering of the black slaves. In the third stanza, the lines “We smile, but O great Christ, our cries,” and “We sing, but oh the clay is vile” insightfully illustrate the resilience of blacks in the face of impunity and the quest to maintain their dignity even in slavery. The whole poem is a paradox unto itself with the black race crying out to the reader but at the same time conceals their suffering with the mask (Keeling, p. 27).


            Through the application of tone and imagery, Paul Laurence Dunbar aptly conveys how concealing our problems and feelings aggrieves us more through “We wear the Mask.” The poem is relatable to readers of all walks of life. Especially in this period and time that people are facing a myriad of challenges, the message is clear to all to speak out and not let depression sink us to the grave. Seek help, guidance and counselling and be able to overcome the challenges you are facing. By keeping silent, you end up hurting ourselves those who love us and hence even fail in protecting anyone.

Works Cited

Braxton, Joanne, and Lauri Ramey. “Paul Laurence Dunbar.” The Cambridge Companion to American Poets (2015): 136.

Brown, Edward. “We wear the mask: African American contemporary gay male identities.” Journal of African American Studies 9.2 (2005): 29-38.

Keeling, John. “Paul Dunbar and the mask of dialect.” The Southern literary journal 25.2 (1993): 24-38.

Morris Davis, Maggie E. “Sound and Silence: The Politics of Reading Early Twentieth-Century Lynching Poetry.” Canadian Review of American Studies 48.1 (2018): 40-60.

Murphy, Jillmarie. “African-American Place Attachments and the Chains of Modernity in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Sport of the Gods.” Attachment, Place, and Otherness in Nineteenth-Century American Literature. Routledge, 2018. 137-164.

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