This essay compares two poems: We Wear the Mask and The Negro Speaks of Rivers. Analysis shows that two distinct literary styles are used by the authors to explore African American experience. Both poems were written during a time when the black community was facing immense oppression and discrimination. Paul Laurence Dunbar and Langston Hughes use powerful imagery and symbolism to convey the struggles and resilience of their people. In this essay, we will compare and contrast the themes, symbolism, imagery, and literary devices used in these two powerful poems.
We Wear the Mask Summary
“We Wear the Mask”, a poem by Paul Laurence Dunbar, was first published in 1896. It tells the reader about the hypocrisy and oppression faced by African Americans in the late 19th century. The narrator states that African Americans wear masks to hide their true feelings and emotions because of the societal pressure to suppress them. They also state that the mask hides the pain and suffering that African Americans have experienced, and that they wear the mask to protect themselves from further harm. The poem ends with the line, “We wear the mask that grins and lies, It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes, This debt we pay to human guile; With torn and bleeding hearts we smile.” This line suggests that despite the pain and suffering they face, African Americans must put on a facade of happiness and contentment in order to survive in a society that oppresses them.
The Negro Speaks of Rivers Summary
“The Negro Speaks of Rivers”, a poem by Langston Hughes, celebrates the historical and spiritual significance of rivers to the African American experience. The poem describes the narrator’s connection to rivers. They have been a source of strength and inspiration for him throughout his life. He speaks of the Nile, the Euphrates, and the Mississippi, and how these rivers have been a witness to the history of the African American people, from the days of the slave trade to the Civil War and beyond. The narrator also tells the reader of his own personal connection to the rivers, saying that they have been a part of him since his birth. Overall, the poem is a powerful tribute to the enduring strength and resilience of the African American spirit.
We Wear the Mask Vs. The Negro Speaks of Rivers: Analysis
“We Wear the Mask” and “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” are poems that were written in the period following the Civil War. The poems also predate the Civil Rights Movement. During this period, most people had mixed feelings concerning the struggles of the African Americans. Both of these poems chronicle the diversity of these feelings.
However, it is clear that the message from both poets is that the struggle continues. There are many similarities and differences in interpretation between these two poems. Some of these are clear-cut, while the others are subtle. This paper will compare and contrast the messages carried by these works of literature.
Dunbar says that the African Americans wear a mask that portrays them as a happy lot to the rest of the world. “We Wear the Mask” was released to the world in 1896. During this time, slavery had just ended and everyone expected the African American population to be in high spirits. Dunbar scoffs at this idea by portraying African Americans as wearing masks of happiness. However, as the speaker asserts in line 3, the African American population has “torn and bleeding hearts”. By the time this poem was written, the fight against racism and unequal treatment was still bubbling under the surface.
This is why Dunbar confirms that African Americans are just masking their real feelings. The mask symbolizes the attitude that was assumed by most African Americans soon after slavery was abolished. Deep down they knew they deserved more rights, but they declined to air these issues in the open. They instead chose to turn to other avenues like their faith in Christ. In the third stanza, the speaker says that they cry to Christ while misleading the rest of the world about their plight.
Hughes, who wrote his poem twenty-five years after Dunbar’s was published, has a different approach on African American issues. Hughes’ poem carries a strong message that highlights pride of origin. The speaker reaffirms albeit with pride, that his roots are connected to mighty rivers. Between the time Dunbar wrote his poem and the time Hughes wrote his, many events had already transpired.
Over this period, the struggles of the African Americans had multiplied. This is why Hughes took the time to explore the history and origins of African Americans. By doing this, the poet asserts that the strength and the history of African Americans cannot be shaken by the events of the time. According to Hughes, even if the African Americans wear a mask, their heritage and pride cannot be altered.
The “mask” described by Dunbar only hides the rich heritage that is described by Hughes in “The Negro Speaks of Rivers”. Those who see the African Americans at the time seem oblivious of the contribution they made to several ancient civilizations. These civilizations occurred in different areas and periods. The Africans thrived in all of them. Fellow Americans at the time only viewed African Americans as recently freed slaves. However, they failed to take into consideration that before they were slaves they had a rich and significant history. The speaker in Hughes poem unifies the plight of all African Americans because of their shared origin.
Both of these poems raise pertinent issues concerning the struggle of African Americans. These struggles were to materialize when they achieved equal rights and overcame racism. The two authors agree that the struggle is still not over but they do so in the context of their times.