I am confused about the theme in the poem Faces by Sara Teasdale. What is the theme in this poem?

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katwood001 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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The main theme of the poem is centered on the masks that we wear in society, but the poem digs deeper than the simple statement, ‘we all wear masks’.  Teasdale presents the insight that when we are walking on the sidewalk, surrounded by the chaos of the streets, we delve into our own thoughts and the mask lifts.  Because we are among strangers rather than coworkers, family, or peers, we do not keep up appearances.  An observer during these moments is able see the true self of the person that is passing them.  Emotions, concerns, frustrations, all rise to the surface and are seen within the eyes.

In the second stanza of the poem, the speaker offers embarrassment over this emotional eavesdropping.  The people that the speaker passes are strangers; however, the narrator is reading their most intimate thoughts.  The third stanza moves from observation to judgment.  While it seems overly harsh to assume every stranger the speaker passes is going through turmoil, Teasdale makes a point.  Would a generally happy person, walking down the street, lift their mask?  Would it be easy to read if that mask was lifted?  Most likely, those who were the most readable would be the people who were suffering, hiding, or angry.  

In the last stanza of the poem, the speaker has a moment to reflect about his or her own mask.  Is it lifted?  How much of his or her own emotions are on display for those who pass?  

Faces is a perception poem. It acts as a mirror for those who read it.  There is a phrase that says: "A person only likes or hates something about someone that the person likes or hates about him or herself."  Such is the nature of a perception poem.  It has been argued that this poem is from the point of view of a depressed woman, a woman with a dark secret such as an affair, or a person who is having tragedy at home.  The darkness or lightness of what the narrator is concerned about others seeing, is dependent upon the issues of the reader.  With this aspect about Faces, we find that the poem comes full circle.  The faces that the reader meets as they read the poem are actually their own.

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