What literary devices are used in the poem "We Wear the Mask"?

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There are lots of metaphors in the poem. The eponymous mask is of course a metaphor for the facade that the poet feels he and other African Americans must adopt. The speaker also refers to the "bleeding hearts" that African Americans must hide. This is also, of course, a metaphor....

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Their hearts are not literally bleeding, but the metaphor helps to convey the pain that they feel.

Another literary device used in the poem is the repetition of the collective pronouns "We" and "our" to refer to African Americans. "We" is repeated seven times throughout the poem, and "our" is repeated five times. The repetition of these collective pronouns emphasizes the number of people who are persecuted and also implies a "them" in opposition to the collective "We."

There is also repetition in the poem of the declaration "We wear the mask." The final time this declaration is repeated, in the final line of the poem, it is also an exclamatory sentence. The repetition, culminating in the exclamatory sentence, implies the speaker's rising anger and frustration. The mask connotes the emotional oppression to which African Americans are subjected, and the speaker is of course angry that he and others should be subjected to such oppression.

The poet's use of rhyme also contributes to the impact of the declaration "We wear the mask" in the final lines of stanzas two and three. These two lines are the only lines in the poem which do not rhyme, and thus these lines—and the connotations associated with the metaphorical mask—are made to stand out.

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In the poem "We Wear the Mask," the mask is personified. It becomes an animate being that can "grin" and "lie," as a human can. The mask acquires the qualities of a powerful, human-like being who is able not only to shield people's faces but also to force them into taking actions such as lying or grinning.

Another literary device in this poem is the use of metaphor. The way in which African American people must hide their true feelings in society is compared to a mask. The mask is the way in which Dunbar describes how African Americans have to have negotiate the world.

"The clay . . . beneath our feet" could be an allusion to the Bible, in which there are many references to clay. One reference is "But now, O Lord, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand" from Isaiah 64:8. Humans are made, like clay, by God, and the speaker appeals to God for help and relief.

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Dunbar's poem "We Wear the Mask" is built around one key literary device: the extended metaphor. This metaphor imagines the face we are forced to present to the world as a "mask" comprised of "grins and lies." Within this central metaphor, there are also other metaphorical elements: for example, Dunbar describes the wearing of this mask as a "debt" which must be paid to society. This debt, like the mask, is metaphorical rather than literal, but both represent the suffering those described in the poem must go through in order to be accepted.

Dunbar also repeats the phrase "We Wear the Mask." This brings a unifying quality to the poem and also emphasizes the continual presence of this mask in our lives, as in the poem. We return over and over to the acknowledgement of this mask, which helps to suggest that the mask cannot simply be donned and forgotten about. Instead, the mask is something the wearer is perpetually aware of.

In the second stanza, we also see an example of a rhetorical question.

In the final stanza, Dunbar uses apostrophe, an address to someone who is not physically present, when he says, "O Christ."

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Among the literary devices Dunbar uses in "We Wear the Mask" is metaphor. The speaker declares that "we wear the mask that grins and lies" to say, figuratively, that the group for whom he speaks hide their true feelings and emotions under a facade of agreeableness.

Hyperbole is used when the speaker asserts "with torn and bleeding hearts we smile;" he means that the psychic wounds inflicted on his people have a nearly physical manifestation.

The rhetorical question "why should the world be over-wise, in counting all our tears and sighs?" is meant to suggest that it would give the offenders satisfaction to know how they wound the group the speaker represents. The speaker will not give them that satisfaction.

Apostrophe occurs when the speaker addresses an absent person or abstract idea. The line "O great Christ, our cries/To thee from tortured souls arise" addresses Christ directly in an appeal for his intervention.

Poets sometimes use inversion to change expected word order in phrases or sentences to fit a metrical design or rhyme scheme. Dunbar uses "long the mile" instead of the more usual "the mile [is] long."

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