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Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Paul Laurence Dunbar - "Douglass" and "We Wear the Mask"

Paul Laurence Dunbar's poems "Douglass" and "We Wear the Mask" exemplify the natural perception of Realism in poetry. Realism is such a broad topic for having to be so "dumbed down," but these two works contain the characteristics of Realism, such as the thoughts of rationalism, views of the middle class hero, and focuses on the psychological plays of all sorts of different people. All of these ideas are fulfilled in just two very short poems, which are still full of simple poetic devices like repetition to get the thoughts of a group across to the reader. Also, both of the poems deal with the African American population and how they are reacting to social movements, such as the antislavery movement and the treatment of equality for men, women, blacks, and whites. Psychology of the people, caused by a change of scenery, control, or other social shift, is a common topic in Realism works (Quinn). This is incredibly present in "We Wear the Mask" because this peom is about the way African Americans act in comparison to how their emotions are actually running. In the opening line, Dunbar says, "We wear the mask thaat grins and lies; it hides our cheeks and shades our eyes" (Dunbar, "We Wear," 571). They are putting on their "happy faces" because they cannot show their true feelings yet since the they have yet to gain any rights as citizens. And, in "Douglass," the idea is suggested that all of the African Americans are afraid of something and just want to be comforted (Dunbar, "Douglass," 570). In both poems, the concerns of the brains of African Americans are crucial. Realism concentrates so much more on the everyday, run of the mill, generic sort of person who is placed in a marvelous situation that forces the character to learn from the experience. Both of these poems also include this character of simplicity. In both poems, the subject is on the African American population and how they feel about their overall treatment or, rather, mistreatment. "Douglass" has confused people looking for hope in their impossible situations ("Dunbar, "Douglass," 570). The last lines are about how they are in constant search of someone to "give us comfort through the lonely dark" (Dunbar, "Douglass," 570). Also, in "We Wear the Mask," the image of a broken group of people, trying to contain their broken hearts and sad faces, sets this same mood of mistreatment over many of the past years. Simple language is used to imply the message the author tries to get across to the reader. The rhyme pattern is simple, making it easier to read, but they are also complex in the messages they convey. This simplicity is common in Realism because it expresses the message of the story in such stark reality. The middle class, just like the rest of the works discussed in this project, is the only real focus of Realism because it is the average person. Dunbar does a fantastic job of showing the characteristics of the genre in these two poems, "Douglass" and "We Wear the Mask." Both poems have feelings and emotions of the African American population which had been subtracted to common humna nature by way of fear of sadness and bleak outlooks, which exemplify Realism quite nicely.


Works Cited

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. "Douglass." Glencoe Literature. Ed. Jeffrey Wilhelm. American Literature ed. Colombus: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 570. Print.

Dunbar, Paul Laurence. "We Wear the Mask." Glencoe Literature. Ed. Jeffrey Wilhelm. American Literature ed. Colombus: McGraw-Hill, 2010. 571. Print.

Quinn, Edward. "realism and naturalism in American literature." A Dictionary of Literary and Thematic Terms, Second Edition. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2006. Bloom's Literary Reference Online. Facts On File, Inc. Online. http://www.fofweb.com/activelink2.asp?ItemID=WE54&SID=5&iPin= Gfflithem0707&SingleRecord=True. 15 Feb. 2011.

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