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What is the mask symbolic of in Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem, "We Wear the Mask"?

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llopez1205 | Student, College Freshman | eNotes Newbie

Posted April 6, 2009 at 1:23 AM via web

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What is the mask symbolic of in Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem, "We Wear the Mask"?

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luannw | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

Posted April 6, 2009 at 8:31 PM (Answer #1)

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The mask in the poem refers to people hiding their true feelings behind a false expression.  Specifically, he is referring to the cheerful face that so many blacks felt necessary to wear in front of white people.  Inside, they felt the pain imposed upon them from their treatment by white people in the early post Civil War years.  He indicates, in the third stanza, that they (the blacks) allow the world to believe that they are content but inside they are not.  His words imply that blacks wear the mask of false contentment by choice because they know that their lives are made easier by wearing it.

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melissa1106 | TA , Grade 11 | Honors

Posted July 14, 2014 at 9:10 PM (Answer #2)

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We wear the mask describes how many people do not show their true emotions and hide behind fake smiles or faces. Many people hide what they feel behind a mask and do not let others know how they feel. In his poem specifically he talks about how African Americans in early days had to wear masks because they were not treated well by society and they were not happy with their lives.

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