We Wear The Mask — Paul Laurence Dunbar

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 over-wise,
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!
Paul Laurence Dunbar
* Assignment: Take a few moments to ponder the meaning behind this poem. What is Dunbar conveying? Have you ever worn the mask? Or are you currently wearing a mask that hides the real you? Leave your response in the comment section.

10 thoughts on “We Wear The Mask — Paul Laurence Dunbar”

  1. The poem is talking about how blacks put on a mask around white people and the truth hides behind it and our true feelings are what he speaks about the poem how we cry out for christ and the lies that we are told from the very start from when they took us its all been lies but we will were our mask not showing our true feelings.

  2. I believe this poem and “the mask” is a symbol of oppression that many slaves obviously suffered, but I believe the poem leans more towards the emotional, maybe even mental, side of things. Having to smile in the face of oppression can be just as painful and rage-inducing than the oppression itself, and this poem speaks of that in a deeper level. I have worn a mask before, but that is because in today’s society, showing how you truly feel about something and letting people know “your business” is not something many people like to do. However, as age shows and as I have learned, wearing a mask can slowly break a person down emotionally and even sometimes physically.

    1. “The Mask” is an emotional state in which you tend to hide your true feeling because in society you have to fake certain things. I have worn the mask several of times, simple because it is easier to say i’m “ok”.

  3. The mask is a social status thing I believe it means people hide behind mask to cover true feelings or true issues that we don’t want others to know of. I have worn a mask to cover emotions yes to avoid questions from others and keep them unworried.

  4. The mask in the poem refers to black people hiding their true feelings behind a false expression. Dunbar is specifically referring to the cheerful face that so many blacks felt necessary to wear in front of white people. Inside, they felt the pain imposed upon them from their treatment by white people in the early 1900s. He indicates, in the third stanza, that blacks allow the world to believe that they are content but inside they are not. His words imply that blacks wear the mask of false contentment by choice because they know that their lives are made easier by wearing it.I had heard of this poem when I was a little younger but it never resonated with me until I became a young adult. I often find myself wearing the mask around those who I am not comfortable with. This includes being extra cautious with my grammar, pronunciations and tone of voice because I never want to be associated with any fictitious stereo types. I wish I didn’t have to wear the mask anymore but I know that isn’t a realistic way of thinking.

  5. During this period when the poem was wrote African Americans concealed their pain. They put on a front as if they were happy and, but they actually weren’t. They wore this mask that hide their true feelings in fear of the white man. African Americans were scared of the white man and what they would do to them so they hide their true feelings. African Americans were actually distressed and unhappy. I have never worn the mask. I am always upfront about my true feelings, because I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t state how I truly felt.

  6. “We Wear the Mask” is a lyrical exploration of all that pretending and the truth that hides behind it. And since the truth is a rather painful one, we get the sense that all of those masks aren’t doing such a great job of covering things up. This poem cries out with the hurt that African Americans faced throughout history. To be able to survive this, people had to draw on their inner strength. “We Wear the Mask” applicable to all sorts of people and circumstances.

  7. I believe this poem is speaking about the African Americans facing hardship from racism to inequality of rights. He is saying that they pretended to be okay and persevere through these hardships to show they can fight back without physically fighting. They wanted to be seen as tough. I have worn the mask for years in my life and I am currently trying to remove that mask bcause I think it is overrated.

  8. In this poem written by Paul Laurence Dunbar, he talks about how us wearing the mask hides our true feelings behind how we really feel. During this time period when racism was still a factor, blacks still had certain restrictions on what they could do/say. Clearly racial segregation was an issue to him. His repetitive statement “We wear the mask!” is a reminder of what “they” did in order to get through each day and not cause any conflict. In that time if they would’ve shown how they really felt about the racial segregation issue, it would’ve made living in America as a black person a worse experience then what it already was in the late 1800’s.

  9. Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote this poem during the 1920’s so I believe that he is talking about how a lot of african americans suppressed their feelings about how they were being treated whether it was because they were afraid of the backlash they would receive or because they knew they could complain all day and nobody was going to care to listen to them. Another reason that they may wear a mask is because they may not have wanted the rest of the world to see them as broken. I think they would have wanted to look unaffected in the face of adversity. I think that holds true today as well. Even just walking around campus you never know what someone else is going through. Hiding the things that is going on in your life is easy because I believe everybody wants to be Mr./Ms. Got it all together.

Manhood, Race, and Culture greatly appreciates your participation on this site. We would love to receive your feedback regarding the site. We are dedicated to working toward the uplift of the Race 'by any means necessary' including, but not limited to education.