We Wear the Mask by Paul Laurence Dunbar Analysis



In Paul Laurence Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask", various forms of figurative language are utilized to convey the many hardships and pain of hiding one's suffering. The poem starts off with "We wear the mask that grins and lies,” and right off the bat, we can see that this line uses personification. The mask “grins and lies,” which is a human characteristic. To grin means to display an expression of happiness, and when put in context with the rest of the poem, "grins and lies" implies that the “mask” is being “worn” to display a facade of happiness on its wearer, concealing the wearer’s true emotions, similar to how a literal mask conceals its wearer’s face and facial expressions. This line helps provide context for the rest of the poem, and enables the reader to better understand what the poet is trying to convey. At Line 4, “With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,”︁ a subtle metaphor is used. A "torn and bleeding heart" is being compared to tremendous emotional pain/suffering- the feeling of being emotionally ripped apart- and “we smile” suggests that the speaker continues to force themselves to act happy despite their great pain. Lines 10 & 11 only serve to further reinforce this; stating "We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries to thee from tortured souls arise." In these two lines, the phrase “we smile” can be seen again, followed by “our cries to thee from tortured souls.” The repeated usage of the phrase “we smile,” implies that the speaker may be repetitively concealing their pain. Doing something like that would certainly take a toll on their mental and emotional health over a long period of time, causing them to become a tortured soul. When put all together, it’s evident that in this poem, Dunbar intended to convey that being deceitful about your emotions will only lead to more excruciating pain and suffering.