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We Wear the Mask Summary & Analysis
by Paul Laurence Dunbar

"We Wear the Mask" was written by African American poet and novelist Paul Laurence Dunbar in 1895. Like much of Dunbar's work, "We Wear the Mask" is a reaction to the experience of being black in America in the late 19th century, following the Civil War—a period when life seemed to have improved for black Americans yet in reality was still marked by intense racism and hardship. Dunbar compares surviving the pain of oppression to wearing a mask that hides the suffering of its wearer while presenting a more joyful face to the world. All that said, the poem itself does not specifically mention race; its message is applicable to any circumstance in which marginalized people are forced to present a brave face in order to survive in an unsympathetic, prejudiced society.

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