As was mentioned in the previous post, the mask symbolizes false appearances that cleverly hide inner turmoil. Throughout the poem, Dunbar describes how persecuted African Americans smile and grin to mask their "tortured souls." Their friendly, happy disposition hides their true feelings of despair, which allows them to function throughout a prejudiced society without displeasing others. Smiling and grinning was essentially a social survival skill that helped African Americans avoid drawing negative attention to themselves. The mask is an important element that can also symbolize protection. A smiling person is viewed as docile and content. African Americans used pleasant facial expressions to protect them in a hostile society. White people were less likely to bother, question, or view African Americans with contempt if they appeared to be happy. Dunbar's poem vividly examines the necessary social dissembling African Americans routinely practiced in order conceal their true feelings in a prejudiced society.