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Themes

No matter where you are, there's no getting around issues of society and class. In Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask," society looks mighty cold and even a little dumb, when it comes to the realities the speaker refers to. And since the speaker is talking to a pretty big audience, we get the sense that he's not limiting this poem to any one society or class. Everyone gets served up a nice dish of poetic criticism. Yum.

Questions About Society and Class

  1. How is a mask symbolic of the ways in which society organizes people into class?
  2. How does the speaker's inclusion of the word "world" help to illuminate issues of society and class in Dunbar's poem?
  3. What do you think are some of the "subtleties" Dunbar's speaker alludes to in reference to society? Are they always "subtle"? Why do (or don't) you think so? 
  4. What do you think is the endpoint of the "long mile" the speaker mentions in the third stanza? How does this mile reflect the ultimate goal that each class strives to achieve?

Chew on This

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

Dunbar's mask is not so much a question of race, but is rather more about the issues of how society is organized according to race. That's a pretty complex mask there. Spooky, too.

Nope. Wrong. Thanks for playing. Society and class have nothing to do with it; after all, Dunbar's speaker could always remove that "mask" by speaking honestly about the problems he sees around him.

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