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...

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