"We Wear the Mask" There are times in life where we are forced to do something we do not really want to do. There are certain situations like this that come to my mind. Every so often, my family gets together. As a teenager, I do not want to be confined.
I realize some of my relatives are a lot older than me and I should spend as much time with them as I can. When my family gets together, I frequently am forced to go to these events and put a smile on my face. I am acting. I am putting on my "mask" and pretending that I am happy.
This artificial face is the subject of Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem, "We Wear the Mask." Dunbar expresses his feelings on what African-Americans were forced to do a century ago. People thought they were happy doing the work they did for the white culture. In reality, they were not. That is the point Dunbar tries to explain to his readers. I have never published a poem attacking what my family makes me do and how I put on a joyous face.
Dunbar wrote "We Wear the Mask" in 1903, at the peak of resistance to the Jim Crow laws. Granted, being forced to go to a family reunion is so trivial compared to climbing out of slavery. Fortunately, for African Americans, the turn of the 20 th century was when they started to come out from behind the masks. "We Wear the Mask" was as important to the freedom movement as the TV was for advertising, or the car was for transportation.
Dunbar uses irony to express what the mask really is. As the poem opens, I for one was confused at what it was about. With no prior of Paul Laurence Dunbar, I had no idea what to expect. The opening lines of the poem read "We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes." My first thought was this poem was written by an avid actor. I believed he was explaining the difference between himself on and off stage. It turns out I was totally wrong after reading through the rest of the poem.
The mask is a symbol. It is a symbol of the heartache each African-American faced in the 19 th century. The heartache they rarely displayed because of the fear of what would happen to them if they began an uprising against the white culture. They were unable to show any emotion. The third and fourth lines of the poem are very powerful, particularly the fourth. It reads, "With torn and bleeding hearts we smile." Immediately, my thoughts went to family members and close friends of the dead at a viewing.
When someone close dies, we know everything will not always be ok, but we like to tell ourselves that it will be. We all walk up, passed the family and tell them how much we loved him and her & say "It was his / her time to go." We try to lift the families spirits up. We try to peel back the mask they are wearing, pretending that everything will be fine. They cannot behind the mask or they will never get over the passing.
They will never admit that the family member died. It is better to release emotions, no matter what the consequences. Some African-Americans wore the mask, while others like Dunbar expressed their discontent in literature.