We Wear The Mask : An Exploration Of 19th Century African American Emotion

1648 Words Mar 2nd, 2015 7 Pages
“We Wear the Mask:” An Exploration of 19th Century African American Emotion
During the 19th century, the United States was rife with turmoil. The Civil War had abolished slavery, and African Americans had gained the rights to vote and own property. However, the idea of slavery was still fresh in the minds of all Americans; African Americans were still treated as lower class citizens. It is from this United States that several distraught poets were born – among them, Paul Laurence Dunbar. The son of slaves, Dunbar became the first African American man to earn a living through poetry by using his poems to express the frustrations of the African American man in the 19th century. Often, his works were of one extreme or the other – his poems spoken directly to or about African Americans were heavy with dialect and simpler diction while he had more formal, flowing poems that were written in a respect, allowing African Americans and whites alike to be able to empathize with the words (Andrews, 1997). The poem that broke this mold was “We Wear the Mask.” Combining the personal and direct language to African Americans with a very rigid structure, Dunbar created one of his most notable works. Using setting, extended metaphor, and imagery – both literal and figurative – Dunbar invokes in the reader a sense of the oppression felt by 19th century African Americans. The setting of “We Wear the Mask” is not expressly stated, so to speak, but the scene that Dunbar paints lends itself to…

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