Paul Laurence Dunbar and the Harlem Renaissance 11th Grade
In 1917-1938, The Harlem Renaissance was in full swing. In a small New York borough called Harlem, black people were beginning to gain social, cultural, and artistic freedom. Black poets, writers, musicians, and scholars flocked to Harlem in search of such new liberty, yet many poets wrote about the hardships they faced due to racism to help express their feelings against oppression. In “We Wear the Mask” and “Sympathy,” Paul Laurence Dunbar depicts the harmful effects of racism through the use of symbolism, violent imagery, and a gloomy mood to develop the theme that oppression by society causes a desire for freedom among minorities.
Dunbar utilizes symbolism to explain that oppression by society causes a desire for freedom. During the time these poems were written, black people were still being treated poorly by white people and were searching for a way to end the oppression. In his poem “Sympathy,” Dunbar writes, “I know what the caged bird feels” (ll. 1, 7). He uses the caged bird to symbolize the oppressed black minority. A bird, by nature, wants to be free and in its natural habitat, a bird can go wherever it pleases. However, a caged bird can not go far; he is restricted to where he can go. In the period of history that...
Join Now to View Premium Content
GradeSaver provides access to 772 study guide PDFs and quizzes, 5218 literature essays, 1579 sample college application essays, 204 lesson plans, and ad-free surfing in this premium content, “Members Only” section of the site! Membership includes a 10% discount on all editing orders.
Already a member? Log in