What does the mask symbolize in "We Wear the Mask"?

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The mask in "We Wear the Mask" symbolizes the false fronts or disguises that people, particularly African Americans, feel compelled to wear to fit into a society marked by racism. It represents the dual existence of those who must hide their true feelings and identities to navigate societal expectations, often referred to as "double consciousness". This forced disguise results in "tortured souls" who maintain hope for a better future where the mask can be removed.

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The mask symbolizes the false fronts that some people feel they must wear in order to be accepted by society. It is certainly possible that Dunbar could be referring to the mask that black people feel they must wear in white society; he is an African American who often wrote about the difficulties and struggles faced by blacks in a society where racism is not only prevalent but institutionalized.

However, nowhere in the poem does it say specifically that the person wearing the mask has to be black—though the speaker does refer to "us," suggesting that he is a member of whatever group feels that they must wear masks. This group, he says, possesses "tortured souls" and they "sing" through their pain, perhaps meaning that they keep faith that their lives will get better and that they will be able to take off the mask one day.

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The mask symbolizes how blacks must hide who they really are to navigate in white society.  Because they are viewed as stereotypes, blacks must pretend to be what white people expect them to be.  A mask hides one’s true identity. 

The first line, “We wear the mask that grins and lies, it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes” shows that they must “mask” how they really feel about their treatment in white society.  It is through one’s eyes and expression that someone can see how another person feels, but with a mask or the ability to effectively hide one’s feelings, a person survives.  W. E. B. Dubois called this “double consciousness” and wrote how in order to survive, blacks must play a role assigned to them by white society.  That role is one of subservience and submission.  Dubois and Dunbar suggest that blacks live two separate existences—one in their own communities and a different one in the white community. This dual role causes blacks to mask how they really feel, act differently than they really are, and give into ideals that oppress them. 

The poem suggests that blacks pay a price or “debt” for the color of their skin, and it is “with torn and bleeding hearts” that they live a life that doesn’t recognize their worth as a human being.

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What is the mask symbolic of in Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "We Wear the Mask"?

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. 

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What is the mask symbolic of in Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem "We Wear the Mask"?

The mask in the poem refers to people hiding their true feelings behind a false expression.  Specifically, he is referring to the cheerful face that so many blacks felt necessary to wear in front of white people.  Inside, they felt the pain imposed upon them from their treatment by white people in the early post Civil War years.  He indicates, in the third stanza, that they (the blacks) allow the world to believe that they are content but inside they are not.  His words imply that blacks wear the mask of false contentment by choice because they know that their lives are made easier by wearing it.

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Meaning of "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence DunbarWhat did the author is trying to tell us? what does this poem mean?

In his autobiographical novel, Black Boy, Richard Wright works at a department store in the town he lives.  When white people walk in front of the store where Richard and another young man work, Richard looks at them, meeting their eyes with his. After they depart, his friend warns him not to look people in the eye, but to lower his eyes and smile.  He explains that the white people do not like them to confront them visually; instead, they must look down and smile and act happy.

Paul Laurence Dunbar's metaphor of "wearing the mask" is an expression of just this pretence of which Wright's friend speaks.  Blacks must pretend to be satisfied with their lower status in society.

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.

But, they protest with "subtleties," acts in which they obtain some slight revenge upon their oppressors.  Another example from Black Boy is a fight that Richard and another boy are supposed to have for money. But, Richard explains that the white men who pay them to fight just want them to beat each other for their enjoyment; they are merely exploiting them. So, the two young men refuse to fight, a "subtlety" of protest.

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Meaning of "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence DunbarWhat did the author is trying to tell us? what does this poem mean?

I agree with the previous post.  Dunbar is trying to convey the idea that African Americans of his day could not show whites their true faces (and perhaps that they did not want to).  This was a time when African Americans were seen very much as inferior to whites and were expected to be deferential to whites, particularly in the South.  It would not have done for an African American to show their true face, particularly if that face were proud or defiant.

I think Dunbar is also saying that African Americans do not want to let whites see their real faces.  I think he is saying that they do not want to let whites see that they are hurt by racist attitudes.

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Meaning of "We Wear the Mask" by Paul Laurence DunbarWhat did the author is trying to tell us? what does this poem mean?

He's trying to tell us that those in his community don't always disclose what they really think, feel, or believe. Dunbar was speaking of formerly enslaved African people and was suggesting that "the mask the grins and lies" is not the true face of the people. Rather, it is a protective mask against the turmoils and dangers of living in such an oppressive and racially charged environment.

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