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Themes

Sure the mask might look nice with all those smiles and grins, but it's certainly not helping matters in, "We Wear the Mask." The lies and deceit aren't just reserved for the outside world either. Those lies are also used by black Americans themselves when conversing with one another about the issues at hand. So, in this case no one is being honest and yet the pain that's felt is awfully real.

Questions About Lies and Deceit

  1. What words might indicate the duality behind Dunbar's poem, in terms of "seeming" and the reality behind the mask?
  2. How does the symbolism of "cheeks" and "eyes" contribute to this theme of lies and deceit?
  3. How does the phrase "human guile" suggest this theme of lies and deceit in a more universal way?
  4. How does the poem's refrain contribute to the theme of "seeming?" Why do you think it's it necessary to repeat the phrase?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

Masks are so pervasive in Dunbar's poem that they're used to hide the truth from the world, and from black Americans themselves. Those are some effective masks. It's a good thing they're effective. Masks may be pervasive but they were also necessary as a matter of survival for black Americans during the nineteenth century, and Dunbar is also aware of this in his poem.

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