Sympathy Paul Laurence Dunbar Poem Analysis

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In 1917-1938, The Harlem Renaissance was in full swing. In a small New York brough called Harlem, black people were beginning to gain social, cultural and artistic freedom. Black poets, writers, musicians and scholars flocked to Harlem in search of these freedoms. Many poets wrote about the hardships faced with racism to help express their feelings against oppression. In “We Wear the Mask” and “Sympathy”, Paul Laurence Dunbar depicts the harmful effects of racism through the use of symbolism, violent imagery, and a gloomy mood to develop the theme that oppression by society causes a desire for freedom among minorities. Dunbar utilizes symbolism to explain that oppression by society causes a desire for freedom. During the time these poems …show more content…
In his poem “Sympathy”, Dunbar writes, “I know what the caged bird feels” (ll. 1, 7). He uses the caged bird to symbolize the oppressed black minority. A bird, by nature, wants to be free and in its natural habitat, a bird can go wherever it pleases. However, a caged bird can not go far; he is restricted to where he can go. During the time the two poems were written, blacks were restricted as to where they could and could not go, too. Blacks were not allowed to mingle with white people. They were forced to keep their distance through segregated facilities such as, bathrooms and water fountains. While white people could do whatever they pleased, like a bird in its natural habitat, black people are segregated, like the caged bird. This restriction black people face, causes them to desire to be equal and free like white people. Also, in “We Wear the Mask”, Dunbar writes that “we wear the mask that grins and lies” (l. 1). Dubar uses mask to symbolize the hidden feelings felt by the black majority as a whole. By saying the “we wear …show more content…
Though the use of artistic expression, black people fought for freedom by writing about freedom until exhausting the topic. In “Sympathy”, Dunbar writes “I know why the caged bird beats his wing / till its blood is red on the cruel bars” (ll. 8-9) He sympathizes with the caged bird. The bird is so desperate to escape its cage that it is willing to attempt escape until exhausted and hurting. Just like the bird, blacks during the Harlem Renaissance were desperate to escape the restriction caused by racism. The desperation and desire for freedom leads to many protests and other forms of resistance to gain artistic freedom. These attempts helped convey the desire to achieve freedom. Another example occurs when Dunbar writes that the bird’ “wing is bruised and bosom sore, - / when he beats his bars and be would be free” (ll. 16-17). The bird fights his cage until exhausted to show how much he wants freedom. If the bird did not truly want freedom, he would not hurt and exhaust himself in an attempt to obtain it. Before the Harlem Renaissance, black people were segregated and treated badly. After years of segregation, black people decided to attempt to make a change. They wrote many poems, songs and plays to express their desire for freedom. The poems repeated central ideas against restriction and the pain and suffering being oppressed

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