Reading Response on “We Wear a Mask”

11 November 2016

Response on “We Wear the Mask” Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” attempts to convey that all of humanity wears a mask for basic survival. The poet ultimately conveys that since we cannot be true to ourselves we can’t expect the more from the world than lies. Dunbar uses “we” as a general term for all of humanity, although he is not excluding himself from this generalization. We as a society have at one point felt the strain of what others decide who we should be based off gender and race.

The mask is what we put on to hide our emotions while we grin and say “I’m fine” while we aren’t. “It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,-” refers to hiding our true emotions. Eyes are often portrayed as a window to the soul and what we truly feel. It our eyes are hidden, it is potentially easy to lie about what we feel. He says that wearing the mask is a “debt we pay to human guile”, human guile meaning cunning or treachery, he is implying that we have to wear the mask because we have lied for so long about our true feelings, it is now expected of us to continue this grand facade.

Even as we are hurting, we mutter countless pleasantries, “And mouth with myriad subtleties” as we fool ourselves and everyone else. When someone asks “How are you? ”, you are expected to say “fine” or “good”; any answer besides that we feel guilty for unloading our issues on someone or we are searching for pity. Dunbar question why the world should know how we feel by our tears and sighs of defeat, but he implores for us to only let them see us with the mask on.

Today, the poem seems to have foreshadowed how life would end up. Mainstream media paints a picture of how we should act and who we should be while they turn around and tell kids to be themselves. This double standard creates a divide in the identity of teenagers. Who they are at home can be the polar opposite of who they are at school or with their friends. The idea to be perfect pushes many teenagers to harming themselves while they put on a mask in order to fit in.

In the last stanza, Dunbar comments that we can’t hide from God, to whom the mask is transparent as glass. We cry out when the weight of our actions we have taken is too much to bear on our own any longer as shown in “…our cries to thee from tortured souls arise. ” We act like nothing harms us, “We sing…” but the road we have taken is hard on us and it is not a pretty one, “but oh the clay is vile/ Beneath our feet, and long the mile;” He is bitter the last two lines, “But let the world dream otherwise/We wear the mask! He states that society doesn’t see the dangers of wearing a mask and through their ignorance; some people can never it off because they are not to. The guilt that makes us cry out in a plea is not enough to make people be their own person because the fear of rejection outweighs it. The final line is delivered with an exclamation that “we wear the mask”, it suggests that the delusion of the peace that the mask offers can only become all the more true by repeating it.

If it was true, humanity would be better off, unfortunately it’s not true and because it is untrue, he implores us to keep the mask on in order to not show the torment that surrounds us and ultimately, the torment in ourselves. Dunbar delivers a brutally honest, self-mocking, pessimistic view of humanity as a whole. The poem carries a significant idea: what you get is a reflection of what you project. In a world where people hide themselves it becomes the standard quo to hide yourself, and the repercussion is blatantly in our faces.

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