Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Resilience in We Wear The Mask

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About this sample


Words: 1004 |

Pages: 2|

6 min read

Published: Dec 16, 2021

Words: 1004|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Dec 16, 2021

On June 27, 1872, the U.S. was coming out of the chains of slavery, and a baby was born, Paul Laurence Dunbar. His parents are African-American or know as freed slaves at the time, who faced many racial hardships. Paul Laurence Dunbar became a famous poet no matter the odds he has faced in his life, and one of his poems is, “We Wear the Mask,” reflecting how resilient he is in life and expresses how dark the reality was at the time.

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The life of Paul Laurence Dunbar starts with his parents and what they have been through. “Many of their experiences of slave and plantation life influenced Dunbar’s later writings” (Paul Laurence Dunbar). Previously, his father, Joshua, volunteered in the Civil War while his mother, Matilda, was married previously. However, their life was not comfortable with the end of the Civil War, and they did not get along with Joshua not being able to get a stable job turned alcoholic leaving Matilda to divorce him. However, Matlida realizing his son’s talent towards writing made sure to let him have education than working. Through his mother’s effort, Dunbar finished all his schooling even though he was the only African American in his class. This must have impacted him harshly as kids look up to adults and his friends in due time realizing his color treated him differently. Even though Dunbar might be facing such treatment, it did not hinder him from becoming the editor of his high school paper and publishing his poetry to local papers.

After graduating from high school, he wanted to go to college or journalism but got denied, and he started working as an elevator operator to sustain himself. However, this did not hinder him from reading or writing, and his former teacher got him to do a poetic address. This gained him praise and influenced him to self-publish his work. He gained support, like Frederick Douglass, and a benefactor to publish the second work that gained him national fame. Then, he set out to do public readings, went to London to tour, and worked at the Library of Congress; but he got sick with pneumonia. He turned to alcohol and lived his remaining life back home with his mother while continuing to write. Paul Laurence Dunbar died on February 9, 1906.

Dunbar is headstrong on what he wants to do no matter the racial restrictions he faced like how he kept on writing and reading without furthering his education. It makes him seem to have a resilience trait, and that can be seen in his poem “We Wear the Mask.” The first line starts with the title and ends with “grins and lies” (Dunbar). This is a personification, but the title to be in the first line indicates the importance of the ordeal that everyone is pretending while the ending is implying how a person is surviving. It may phantom why someone would put on a mask, but in Dunbar’s shoes, it is his reality from how he had to go to school each day not minding the looks or treatment he got. The rest of these lines making stanza one showcases more of imagery like “bleeding hearts we smile” or “mouth with myriad subtleties”. It all emphasizes the pain in Dunbar’s heart to go every day without his dream job or pretending everything is fine even though hatred is in every corner. This, also, reflects towards the whole black community where there is some type of racial laws forcing, no matter what age the person is, to follow unless they wanted to go to prison for life, lynching, among other horrid punishments.

Dunbar’s remaining two stanzas goes on to showcase more suffering. In stanza two, it mentions how “the world [can] be over-wise” which hints out everyone is being blind to the suffering every black person is facing, or how they all follow each other of treating them horrible since that has been going on forever. This declares the difference in how large the divide is of a black and white person. The history of America always has a color person, black, in slavery, sharecropper after the civil war, and for specific jobs too. However, for a white person, they have always lived a life of luxury, even poor whites, without the constant fear of breaking the law or a random mob coming to serve a punishment. Therefore, the word choice of using “over-wise” is a perfect fit to declare how this situation of the people who lived through luxury with no fear or punishment cannot see the ugly truth of reality'. At the end of the stanza, Dunbar finishes it off with the title again. However, there was some salvation that the black community looked up to. This is in the third stanza mentioning “Christ,” “tortured soul arise,” and how they would “let the world dream overwise” (Dunbar). Plus, it repeats the title at the end. This magnifies the issue of the cruelty America has given to the black community for decades. Their salvation is God no matter who inflicts pain or is blind not to see it, and that is a crime fit for the punishment of making someone turn to God thinking nothing else can be done even though we, the people, can do something about it.

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Overall, Paul Laurence Dunbar’s life of being resilience to not give up on his dream, how his parents influence him, and his poem reflecting on his life and the black community is a part of what makes America. The poem he wrote with the repetition of the title, “We Wear the Mask,” is significant, even to this day, to the reality of how blind people can be to the suffering. This poem, overall, is a reminder to dig deeper than the surface of smiles a person gives. Plus, as the world moves forward with more problems like global warming or voter fraud, there will be more mask worn to hide the ugly truth that might seem no one has an answer to.  

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This essay was reviewed by
Dr. Charlotte Jacobson

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Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Resilience In We Wear The Mask. (2021, December 16). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 23, 2024, from
“Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Resilience In We Wear The Mask.” GradesFixer, 16 Dec. 2021,
Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Resilience In We Wear The Mask. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 23 Jun. 2024].
Paul Laurence Dunbar’s Resilience In We Wear The Mask [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2021 Dec 16 [cited 2024 Jun 23]. Available from:
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