African-American Poetry Comparison Essay by Research Group

African-American Poetry
Discusses and compares the formal structures in the poems by Claude McKay ("If We Must Die") and Paul Laurence Dunbar ("We Wear the Mask").
# 25883 | 934 words | 2 sources | 2002 | US
Published on May 02, 2003 in Literature (American) , Literature (Poetry) , African-American Studies (General)

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The formal structures of Claude McKay's "If We Must Die" and Paul Laurence Dunbar's "We Wear the Mask" operate in unusual ways. The paper shows that because both poets were African-Americans writing about the injustices suffered by their race, they were writing about fundamental feelings of rage and the struggle to avoid despair. It shows however that they were also writing specifically about the ways African- Americans face the white world that oppresses them. Ironically, they also wrote in the language and, at times, in the poetic tradition of the white culture.

From the Paper:

"Dunbar's poem is written in iambic tetrameter and contains very few words of more than one syllable. The short words emphasize the regular rocking rhythm that resembles a children's rhyme. And for the first three lines of the poem the reader, while aware that something is being hidden, is not fully prepared for the fourth line where the shocking image of "torn and bleeding hearts" emerges. It emerges only to have its intensity quickly suppressed as the line ends with "we smile," which rhymes almost childishly with "guile." But the true depth of feeling is established by the contrast between the "torn and bleeding" and the "smile." The smile, a feature of the mask, hides the true feelings of the people who are Dunbar's subject -- just as the "smile" in this line masks the intensity of the words that precede it."

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