Sympathy Paul Laurence Dunbar Analysis

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Paul Laurence Dunbar, one of the first African-American poets to receive widespread recognition from both the Caucasian and African-American communities released many pieces of literature expressing his feelings throughout his life during the Reconstruction era. Two of these pieces, “We Wear the Mask” and “Sympathy” were short poems that veered from his regular dialectic pieces, aimed at aiding in Reconstruction, and held hidden rebellions against the mistreatment of African-Americans at the time the passages were released. The African-American and Ethnic Literary Studies critical approach is a tool used while critiquing pieces of literature that hold common themes or elements tracing back to slavery and segregation in early America. This approach …show more content…

The bird is interpreted as the symbol of the African-American people, beating their metaphorical wings against their past cages of slavery, and the current cage of segregation and discrimination. Dunbar highlights this notion, declaring, “I know why the caged bird sings, ah me, / When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore, - / When he beats his bars and he would be free; / It is not a carol of joy or glee” (Dunbar, “Sympathy” 555). Dunbar addresses the fact that he is able to relate to this bird, and mentions the fact that the bird wishes it could be free; much like the African-Americans wished they could be free from discrimination at the time, while the bruises on the bird’s wings and body symbolize the mental abuse being enforced. Dunbar uses his poem to lay the groundwork for future forms of African-American literature by perpetrating the desire for freedom and equality. Joanne Gabbin notices this, stating, “Likewise, in ‘Sympathy’ Dunbar grasps the universal cry for freedom, the inevitable theme of African American literature since black poets tried to sing in a strange land. The speaker in the poem metaphorically becomes the caged bird beating its wings against bars that do not give way” (Gabbin 228). Dunbar may also have been addressing the issue of African-American literature being used for minstrel tales and dialectic stories. Dunbar, along with other African-American poets at the time, felt trapped in the style and prose he was expected to write in, which brought focus to another aspect responsible for the style of literature known as African-American literature

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