Paul Laurence Dunbar

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What is theme of the poem "Sympathy"?

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Paul Laurence Dunbar was the son of former slaves. His father had escaped enslavement by running away. By his mother, the oral tradition of African-Americans was passed on to him. So, when he says “I know what the caged bird feels," he actually knows it.

The agony of the oppressed African-Americans is the most prominent theme of Dunbar's poem “Sympathy.” It’s been expressed through the sufferings of a "caged bird." "The caged bird" has got wings like a free bird, but it can’t use them to fly. Instead, it uses its soft wings to strike against the iron bars hoping to break open the cage. This leaves the poor bird bleeding with sore wings.

…the caged bird beats his wing
Till its blood is red on the cruel bars; 

In this way, in a very somber tone, the poet expresses the ordeal of African-Americans. Down the ages, they have been oppressed and enslaved by the whites. The iron bars of racism have prevented them to live a normal life.

Besides, longing for freedom is another important...

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