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.

Why should the world be overwise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

Analysis, meaning and summary of Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem We Wear the Mask

25 Comments

  1. Edward Jackson says:

    I first heard about this poem in college. We analyzed it and we came to the conclusion it could speak to a lot of oppressed people: especially gays. Imagine beng black and gay. What a mask we have to wear! I immediately adopted this poem as my favorite because it spoke to my situation.

  2. rae'ven says:

    woow!!! this poem really tuched me.It has been said many times that “you can not judge a book by it’s cover” and “do not judge a man untill you have walkd a mile in his shoes.” A person may appear one way on the out side but is feeling the opposite on the inside. We waer diffrent mask every day and don’t relize it. “We Wear the Mask” is a lyric pem that oppressed black faced to hidel their pain and frustrations. In this poem many lasn’s can be learn. And i two wear the mask.
    Paul L. Dumbar writes about hides and separates the viewer from the viewed just like actor. They wear mask when they are performing.Slaves as well. Enslaved people wear mask every day. They were treated with such disrespect and humiliation.

  3. Rochelle says:

    How fitting that Paul Lawrence Dunbar wrote about wearing a mask. He wore a mask and he was a tortured soul. He raped his wife before marrying her and they separated because he almost beat her to death and then left her for dead. He was a wife beater, alcoholic, a rapist and possibly bi-polar. He may have died of tuberculosis but I am sure his soul was tortured because of his unchristian like behavior.

  4. gabby says:

    this poem was so totally awsome!!
    touches my heart

  5. Datravius Capers says:

    i am doing a report on Paul Laurence Dunbar and this is by far one of the best poems of his. because we do wear the mask and hide our deepest feelings and we dont really show our potential.

  6. Leroy Broner says:

    The Greatest poem that i ever read

  7. Samphire says:

    I read this poem because a High School student, raising money for research into uveitis, used the poem to describe the lives of uveitis sufferers.
    Good poetry moves us and makes us think. Our thoughts may not be those the poet was thinking, our times may be far removed from the days the poet was alive, but good poetry contains a universiality in its subject that is understood across generations and cultures.
    I have uveitis which is blinding me. The poem made me cry because I don’t wear a mask: all can see my pain. It humbled me because I lack the courage to hide my fear, my anger, my desperation. Great writers speak of the human condition and Dunbar has chosen one of our better traits: our ability to retain dignity when the cards are stacked against us. He also does that remarkable thing great writers do with ease – create empathy. I like to imagine him as a poet who changed the lives of others for the better.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I understand that this poem had some African-American meanings behind it, but does anyone else think it could have another meaning…?… He expresses how “we” are hiding things inside, how “we” are hiding our true feelings, and how “we” are putting on a facade so the “world thinks otherwise”
    Could Paul Lawrence Dunbar had been a Christian, talking about the masks that “we” wear because of whatever reasons???

  9. Hannah says:

    I think this poem is not only a good representation of the struggle african americans went through, but more specifically; I believe the mask he is talking about was imposed on them. this poem was written post-civil war when black and white men were trying to co-exist. White men humored themselves with Minstrel shows and blackface acting. Even black men would paint over thier already dark skin and over-exaggerate thier mouth with huge white lips painted on. when he speaks of the tortures souls arising i think he means his fore-fathers who went through the pain of slavery.

  10. brandi says:

    the first time i read this poem was in a theater class for a project and what it meant to me is that sometimes children and other people hide their true selvs from everyone else like the children that are abused or the children that dont have parents that care about them but when i looked this up on here i found that it was relly about african americans and the struggle that they have went through and i read it again and it does all come into place now this is a great poem keep up the good work

  11. Netta says:

    This poem is one of my favorites. It so boldly interprets the struggle of prejudice and hardships endured by African americans then and now. The sad thing is it is still resonant of today, but I think it could be used as a great learning tool for teaching the past and how we could possibly change the future.

  12. Damon says:

    Depicts overall struggle of African Americans throughout hisstory

  13. Anthony O. Langford says:

    As an eighth grade Language Arts teacher, I found this poem be an excellent teaching tool as well as intriguing personal reading. In today’s classrooms, teachers are required to teach across the curriculum.
    Not only does this poem afford one the opportuniy to accomplish this,but it also affords the teacher the opportunity to integrate real-life experiences into classroom activities as this, too, is now required in many school districts throughout our nation. KUDOS!!!

  14. Daphney says:

    This poem is very profound. It dicribes the sruggle that Affrican Americans went through and are still going through. Absolutely great poem.

  15. mike says:

    this poem is much like our country. we are supposed to be the “greatest” of all countries because we have the most freedom but we have really bad troubles

  16. Kelsey says:

    what a great poem, this is such a truthful peom It’s great Keep it up !

  17. brion'ka says:

    o my god i absolutely love that poem,the first time i read the poem i didnt realy understand the poem . but now that i understand what hes talikin about and the struggle african americans went trough.and im african american and it teaches me about my culture

  18. Aaron says:

    Exelent poem, I just Love it

  19. Steve Solkey says:

    A great poem, I just love it Helped me understand the troubles African Americans had to go through in the early 1900’s.

  20. William says:

    Oddly enough, if you tell the typical english class to interpret the poem WITHOUT knowing that it was written by Dunbar, they will see it as a poem about conformity and false persona. If you tell them the background of the author, they will see it as a poem about race relations… kinda funny really.

  21. Cheryl says:

    We Wear the Mask is my favorite poem. It depicts how African Americans have adapted to the harsh world of racism. While volunteering at a local shelter,the poem depicted the Katrina Evacuees.

  22. carolyn says:

    I first read this poems as a high school student in the South. I found this poem in my efforts to understand the slave issues we were studying and to learn and to understand what contribution blacks had made to the building of America. The poem was a key link into understanding just that. You see blacks were absent from the history books of my generation. They were only discussed as slaves. To this day I have a great appreciation for this poetic.

  23. wendy says:

    I have loved the poems I’ve read so far. I have never read his work before. I think I’m hooked. I just “get it!”

  24. Grace says:

    I was ready a book of gathered poems this morning. I saw this one, and it is exactly me, put into words that could not flow from my own in such preciseness to accomplish the goal. I love it greatly. It can be anyone at anytime. We all wear masks in a great masquerade.

  25. Sara Kelmar says:

    This poem is one of my favorite poems in the world and I have read alot of poems. This poem can touch anyone.

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