Study Guide

We Wear the Mask Suffering

By Paul Laurence Dunbar


This isn't the sort of suffering you may experience after breaking up with your girlfriend. The kind of pain we sense in "We Wear the Mask" comes when the speaker's whole world appears cold and indifferent, and there's not much support around to help him. Adding insult to injury is the fact that it's awfully dangerous to even talk about this sort of thing. But there's also hope that all of this suffering could be abated in due time. Luckily, in the time since this poem was written, it has been for many people.

Questions About Suffering

  1. How do we know that the suffering the speaker refers to is not just experienced by him alone? What words indicate that the suffering is felt by a larger group?
  2. Which lines in particular really accent the suffering that occurs due to the duality of the emotional conflictĀ the speaker addresses?
  3. Why does the speaker appear more emotionally distraught in the third stanza than the previous ones? What words in particular heighten the severity of the speaker's suffering?
  4. What's the connection between lies/deceit and human suffering? How can all the suffering be alleviated or prevented all together?

Chew on This

Misery loves company, right? The speaker isn't suffering alone in Dunbar's poem, which makes the problems he refers to all the more salient.

No. In fact, misery does not love company. (We don't know where we got that idea.) Everyone suffers alone, so even if Dunbar's speaker appears to represent a larger group, his pain is still his own.