Can someone paraphrase "We Wear the Mask"?  

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Paul Lawrence Dunbar was an African American poet writing in the 19th and 20th centuries. In "We Wear the Mask," Dunbar writes about the black American experience of hiding true pain and suffering behind "masks." Let's look at the first stanza:

We wear the mask that grins and...

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Paul Lawrence Dunbar was an African American poet writing in the 19th and 20th centuries. In "We Wear the Mask," Dunbar writes about the black American experience of hiding true pain and suffering behind "masks." Let's look at the first stanza:

We wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Black Americans, Dunbar here writes, wear masks to hide their pain. These masks are disguises—costumes, almost—that they don, giving an appearance of being happy and fulfilled in society. In reality, they have "torn and bleeding hearts"—they experience immense pain and suffering. They "mouth with myriad subleties," meaning that they disguise not only their expressions and pain, but also their language. Words of discontent are hidden or stifled. This poem was written before the civil rights movement, so black Americans would have had to speak to whites with civilities that guarded their true feelings. These "subleties" were "mouth[ed]", suggesting they were mechanical in nature—they did not come naturally to the speakers.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

In the second stanza, Dunbar asks a rhetorical question. The world is wise to (aware of) the black American struggle, but why should they be over-wise to it? Why should people care? They see only the mask that black Americans wear, ignoring the realities before their eyes.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

In the last stanza, Dunbar emphasizes these points. Smiles hide a people in collective pain. They sing and appear happy, but they also stand above a land that is "vile"—evil and corrupt—because it only offers them pain. The mention of a "mile" suggests a journey, so there is a destination, perhaps even hope. But it is a "long" mile, so there is quite a distance to go. Meanwhile, the world will continue to believe in the facade that black Americans put on. People will choose to see only the mask.

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"We Wear the Mask" is a powerful poem by Phillip Dunbar.  Dunbar was an African American poet,,and he is speaking about the facade that many blacks wear (wore) to hide their inner pain and suffering from the world.  The mask that is worn is a happy face that hides the tears and the tear-stained cheeks as well as the sad and hurting heart.  In the second stanza, the speaker declares that the mask keeps the world from seeing the sorrows of the African Americans, and questions why the world should be privy to this pain.  The smiles and song only cover the pain of the "tortured soul: and mask the cries that arise from the sorrow.  The world is content with the illusion of the African American happiness, and the speaker of the poem sees no reason to disabuse the world of its misconception.  He and his fellow African Americans  will continue to wear the mask.

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