In stanzas 2 and 3 of "We Wear the Mask," the speaker contrasts appearance and reality in two different situations and with two different examples. What do they have in common?

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In the second stanza of "We Wear the Mask ," Dunbar contrasts how the world sees black people with the reality of their condition. Though black people shed tears and sigh—presumably because of constant prejudice and racial oppression—they must nonetheless continue wearing a mask in front of the white...

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In the second stanza of "We Wear the Mask," Dunbar contrasts how the world sees black people with the reality of their condition. Though black people shed tears and sigh—presumably because of constant prejudice and racial oppression—they must nonetheless continue wearing a mask in front of the white man, a mask hardened into a permanent grin. This is a coping mechanism, albeit a very imperfect one, to help deal with the day-to-day indignities encountered by black people at that time.

In the third and final stanza, the speaker says that, as well as smiling, black folk sing, even though their tortured souls cry out to heaven. The similarity with the act of smiling we saw in the second stanza isn't hard to spot. Black people are being forced to wear a mask, which manifests itself in grinning and singing, that hides the true nature of their oppression.

On the outside, it seems that black folk don't have a care in the world; that's certainly what white society would like to think. But on the inside, where it really matters, it's a different matter entirely. Deep in the black soul there is great sorrow, not just at the brute fact of daily oppression but also at the impossibility of living an authentic life free from the mask they are forced to wear by white society.

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