Study Guide

We Wear the Mask Race

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We know that Dunbar avoids including any specifics in "We Wear the Mask." We also know that he did this on purpose, perhaps with the intention of amplifying his poetic references to masks and deception. But there's no getting around the history and motivation for this particular poem, which is a clear reaction to the stifling racial climate of the late nineteenth century. (Somebody open a window and let some justice in here.)

Questions About Race

  1. Even if we didn't know the history behind Dunbar's poem, how can we still apply the speaker's messages to issues of race and society?
  2. How does the imagery of a "mask" contribute to questions of identity, race, and social status in nineteenth-century America?
  3. In a more general sense, how do masks represent problems of racial stereotypes and prejudices?
  4. How does the inclusion of the word "we" also help to accent questions of race and identity in this poem?

Chew on This

Race is the ultimate mask in Dunbar's poem (way better than that strip of cloth that the Lone Ranger wears), simply because the world only sees the social stereotypes and stigmas associated with it.

Race isn't the real mask in Dunbar's poem. Nope. The real mask is all of the lies and deceit associated with talking (or not talking) about racial issues.

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