Have you ever seen the pictures of masks from ancient civilizations, such as Greece? In those times, actors in plays used to wear different masks to portray a certain emotion. Similarly, people use certain attitudes and expressions to mask or conceal, their true emotions. We have all hidden our emotions at one time or another. A person may portray a specific attitude, and people assume that quality or condition about that person when in reality, this is just a disguise. In many cases, things are not always as they seem, as in the poems “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Laurence Dunbar and “Richard Cory” by Edwin Arlington Robinson.
From the first line of “We Wear the Mask” by Paul Lawrence Dunbar, the reader can see that there is a mask covering the true emotions of the people in the poem. Dunbar specifically points to the immense suffering of black people and the necessity of painting on a happy face as a survival tactic. He emphasizes that slaves, even though they may have seemed happy, they were suffering in reality. During his lifetime, Dunbar had certainly witnessed this period in history as one of the harshest for African-Americans. The poem cries out with the hurt that African-Americans have endured throughout history, “with torn and bleeding hearts we smile”, signifying that they were heartbroken but they smiled to hide, or mask, true emotions.
A person’s spirituality and faith in God can help them in the most painful, dreadful situations. In the lines “we smile, but, O great Christ, our cries/to thee from tortured souls arise”, it is evident that they depended on their God, and even when all else had failed, slaves could pray and feel that their God had heard them.
People are not always who they appear to be and people may seem to have it all but may be emotionally unstable. This statement basically summarizes the purpose of the poem “Richard Cory” by Robinson. In the poem, a man named Richard Cory appeared to have it all: good looks, a suave persona, and of respectable social status. In the first and third stanzas, Richard Cory is compared to a king or someone of high status. The people in the town admired him to the point where it was almost a shock when “he was always human when he talked”. The people looked up to him with envy to an extent, at what he had, “to make us wish that we were in his place”. Despite his apparent perfections, Richard Cory was still missing something in his life, because “one calm summer night,/Went home and put a bullet through his head”.
The difference in the two poems is in it’s focuses. In “We Wear the Mask” the focus was on black slaves and how they had to conceal their true emotions. The “mask” is a necessary survival procedure because no one could remediate this situation, and they had to rely on their faith in God to keep them going. In contrast, the people in “Richard Cory” never bothered to get to know Richard personally, so they just assumed he had a perfect life. Everyone was in awe and admiration of him, and he was in direct contrast to the people in the town. They were poorer, and may have gone hungry at times, whereas Richard Cory was the rich, graceful, well mannered gentleman who fluttered pulses when he talked and glittered when he walked.