The speaker refers to "we" throughout the poem. Who is we?

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gmuss25 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The speaker of Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "We Wear the Mask" is referring to the oppressed, disenfranchised African Americans by using the first person plural pronoun "we." Dunbar illustrates the way that countless African Americans living in prejudiced societies consciously smile and maintain a pleasant disposition as an important social survival skill. Behind the smiles and affable appearances of disenfranchised African Americans are the painful "bleeding hearts" and difficult emotions that they cleverly conceal in order to make their lives easier. Dunbar's poem illustrates how oppressed African Americans, who are discriminated against and suffer on a daily basis, mask their difficult, painful emotions behind smiles and pleasant grins. Dunbar and other African Americans understand that a smiling person is presumably content and not viewed as a threat. Therefore, they cleverly hide their "tears and sighs" behind a mask in order to survive in unforgiving, dangerous social settings.

price7781 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The “we” in “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar is the African American who has been oppressed by white society. Because of racism, discrimination, and stereotyping, Dunbar maintains that blacks must wear a mask that hides who they really are and their true feelings.  Outwardly, they grin and lie to white society who feels they must act a certain way in order to fit in.  Underneath the mask, is a human being who is not accepted or understood because of the color of their skin.  The mask blacks must wear in order to navigate white society leads to “tortured souls” and unhappiness. The idea of this “double consciousness” first proposed by W. E. B. Dubois suggests that blacks act (and talk) one way in their own communities, and in order to survive, they must act differently in white society.  This dual role blacks must play causes them to wear an imaginary mask that shows happiness but hides their tears and sorrow for not being accepted in society.