Dunbar's Mask

1411 Words6 Pages
Dunbar's Mask A person's opinion of the world, and of themselves, is heavily influenced by his or her environment. How a person reacts to each situation, and how those circumstances are allowed to affect them, is what ultimately impacts their outlook on life. In writing “We Wear the Mask”, Paul Laurence Dunbar uses metaphors and symbolism to parallel his own experiences as a first generation African American after the American Civil War. Paul Laurence Dunbar was born in Dayton, Ohio on June 27, 1872, seven years after the American Civil War. His father, Joshua Dunbar, was a former slave who escaped to Canada and later served in the volunteer Fifty-fifth Massachusetts Infantry during the American Civil War. His mother, the former Mrs. Matilda Murphy, was an ex-house slave from Lexington, Kentucky. Neither parent was formally educated, but both were self taught readers by the time Dunbar was born (Wiggins 11). Life during the Reconstruction Era was difficult for many African Americans, especially in the south. In the Alabama Review, Bertis English, Assistant Professor of History at Alabama State University, writes that, “numerous whites vented their frustrations by harassing, intimidating, or physically assaulting blacks” and that they “made it difficult for African Americans to buy land and homes, secure employment, or gather socially.” (4). Fortunately for Dunbar, Ohio was never a slave state. Racial prejudice was problematic, but Dunbar was sheltered from much of the social unrest and violence occurring elsewhere. In a time when many African Americans were at odds with white America, Dunbar was raised within a predominately white community. Growing up in Dayton presented Dunbar with many opportunities not available elsewhere, such as attending integrated public schools. Michael R. Strickland, in his book African-American Poets, states that Dunbar
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