Paul Laurence Dunbar

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Write a close analysis of "Sympathy" by Paul Laurence Dunbar. Specific directions to formulate the answer are listen below. Pay attention to the structure, repetitions, language, and style of the poem. How is it structured? Pay special attention to the language (including the figurative language) and specific wording of the passage, including its figures of speech and sound. Are there any important images, metaphors, or conceits? What are the important words? What are the relationships between them? Is there some relationship between the form and content of the poem? Look for vertical relationships and not just linear ones.

In "Sympathy," the bird can be interpreted as a symbol of an African American person who can see the privileges and opportunities that white people are afforded but who is prevented from enjoying those same privileges and opportunities. Words used to describe the world outside the bird's cage are positive in connotation and paint beautiful pictures. Words used to describe the bird's life inside the cage are harsh and depressing.

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In this poem, the speaker claims to understand what a caged bird feels like, why it beats its body against the bars, and why it sings despite its pain. The poem is comprised of three stanzas. In the first, the speaker relates to the bird's feelings when it sees the...

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In this poem, the speaker claims to understand what a caged bird feels like, why it beats its body against the bars, and why it sings despite its pain. The poem is comprised of three stanzas. In the first, the speaker relates to the bird's feelings when it sees the beautiful sunshine on the grass and the river and when the flowers bloom. He implies that the bird must want desperately to fly free and unfettered amid this natural setting. In the second stanza, the speaker claims that he knows why the bird beats its wing against the bars until it is bloody, only to return to its perch within the cage. In the third stanza, the speaker claims that the bird sings though in pain because it "would be free" and it sends the song "upward to Heaven" as a "plea" for freedom.

The caged bird can be interpreted as a symbol of an African American who can see the freedoms and privileges that white Americans are offered but which are not shared by him because of his skin color. He may experience the figurative cage of social, racial, or economic oppression and know that there is a wider, more beautiful world to experience but that he is prevented from enjoying it, just as the bird is prevented from enjoying nature and freedom.

There is a great deal of visual imagery and words with positive connotations in the first stanza. The sun is "bright," the wind is "soft," the grass is "springing," and the "river slows like a stream of glass" (also a simile). There are singing birds and "bud[s]" opening up to release their perfume, like "chalice[s]" (a metaphor). These are all the beauties in which the caged bird cannot share.

Instead, in the second stanza, more negative words predominate: there is "blood" on the "cruel bars" of the bird's cage, and it must "cling" to the perch while in "pain." Its "scars" still "sting," though many are old. The words in the third stanza work together to produce a mood of desperation and, however unlikely, hope: the bird is "bruised" and "sore," but it keeps trying to "be free." It sends up a "prayer" from its "heart's deep core," a "plea" to heaven that it can one day fly free.

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