Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down

396 Words2 Pages
“Illegitimi non carborundum” is a mock-Latin phrase meaning “Don’t let the bastards grind you down.” Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “We Wear the Mask” utilizes symbolism and metaphors to express an intimate feeling of pride and fight of African Americans during the era in which slavery was widely accepted, as well as convey a message of “illegitimi non carborundum.” Dunbar primarily uses physical descriptions to illustrate both psychological and physical damage caused by unjust treatment. “The mask that grins and lies” is not a literal, tangible mask, but instead a cheery, obedient front put up in order to fool white oppressors and slave owners. This front helps protect African American slaves, and hides “our cheeks and [shade] our eyes,” therefore disallowing their oppressors from recognizing the true sorrow and loathing evident in one’s eyes and facial features. Akin to a physical mask, this mask of lies hides and protects one’s true self, and is even, at times, suffocating. African American slaves are forced to deal with being torn away from their families and homes, which is reflected in the verse which refers to “torn and bleeding hearts” that smile. The draining hearts represent psychological pain in the literal separation of blood family. It also refers to injuries and physical harm accredited to harsh working conditions and physical violence, such as whips which would tear skin. Despite the discrimination and pain felt by African American slaves, the speaker urges others to remain strong, and “let them only see us while we wear the mask.” The speaker makes an attempt to rally strength and morale, going along with the message, “don’t let the bastards get you down.” “Bastards” in this case would also not hold its literal meaning, but instead refers to those who would treat the enslaved party as inferior beings. Dunbar keeps with the idea to maintain a
Open Document