Compare/ contrast the use of figurative language in the two poems "Harlem"by Langston Hughes and  "We wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence Dunbar.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In my mind, the use of figurative language resides in how both thinkers conceive of being a person of color in America.  For Dunbar, the use of the “mask” is designed to conceal the pain of being Black in America.  The mask is to hide the struggle and frustration in a land that preaches opportunity, but delivers quite another reality.  The use of figurative language is designed to present that a dual consciousness plagues people of color for one part of their identity seeks to believe the promises and possibilities of America while another fully understands the despair and denial within it.  The mask is employed as a metaphor to convey both experiences.  In some ways, Hughes uses his examples of figurative language to tear away the very mask that Dunbar creates.  Hughes is open in his opening line about the reality of this condition.  He does not necessarily answer what happens to a dream that is put aside on a continual basis.  Yet, rather he explores this idea through a series of images that brings to light the reality of what goes on underneath the mask that Dunbar suggests is worn by all of those who are pinned on the outside looking in to the America of their hopes and dreams.  In Hughes’ world, the use of figurative language helps to explore the complexity of what it means to be a person of color, in particular, African- American in the nation of the modern setting.  Both thinkers use figurative language as a way to bring to light the pain and struggle in a part of American life that is not completely articulated in a lucid manner.

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