Gosh, I have a lot to do today. Furthermore, I have been on steroids since Saturday afternoon, so I am hungry, and deep in the background of my psyche, someone is really pissed off and just looking for an excuse to leap to the forefront and take over. I've got a few excuses...Hopefully a good solid day in a sitting position won't be impossible, cuz I got about 7 hours of paper to write. The structured writing requirements of my Comp II class leave me devoid of any desire to write for myself. The OCD formatting, and active voice requirements leave me drained. Like a man who spends large amounts of time satisfying a kinky mistress, and has no energy at home. My last paper was a contrast/literary criticism of We Wear the Mask, and I Wanted to Share My Father's World. The first poem is by Paul Dunbar, and the second by....President Jimmy Carter. I dislike reading poetry. In my mind, it has the palatability of sex in jail: undesirable, especially if it is someone else's idea.
Anyhow, I gotta ninety-seven.
30 August 2009
The fundamental defense mechanism of nondisclosure in the face of perceived vulnerability strikes a familiar chord within the reader as he views the common threads of concealed anguished that weave through the lyric, rhymed poems “We wear the Mask” and “I Wanted to Share My Father’s World”. The scent of private pain in literary waters plucks a heart string common to people with even the most elementary skills of personal interaction. “We wear the Mask” and “I Wanted to Share My Father’s World” speak of specific phenomena, while describing patterns of action or inaction familiar to readers male or female and from multiple cultural backgrounds. In both works, the speakers confide inner dissatisfaction to the audience, and the reader seizes upon it instinctively.
The earliest childhood awareness of self as an entity separate from others spawns a gap between souls, the distance hopefully spanned by a bridge of goodwill. The narrowness and flimsy construction of this connection between people gives rise to feelings of isolation, and vulnerability. Both Mr. Carter and Mr. Dunbar tap this visceral knowledge of human nature, giving an illusion of novelty as they reveal their true feelings to the audience. Both poems appeal to a facet of our nature present at the dawn of humanity. President Jimmy Carter, white, educated, and raised in affluence, writes a lamentation of relational pain. His lyric poem, “I Wanted to Share My Father’s World” surveys the memory of a man as his perspective moves from that of a son to that of a father.
The unnamed narrator takes an introspective look at his paternal relationship. He announces at the outset that these things seldom see the light of exposure, and explains his bittersweet grief by reminding the reader that familial connection, and the bonds of descent and ancestry endure the passage of time, not easily severed by resentment and pride. Acceptance between a father and a son lacks a casual or neutral regard. Relationships among males of close family relation require at least a small dose of esteem for one another to grow and flourish. Mr. Carter articulates the universal son’s longing for paternal respect and fondness, a description of an interior deficit, a wound treatable only by the weight of Daddy’s callused hands upon his shoulders. (lines 3-6).
Mr. Carter’s narrator catalogs the arrogance and willful blindness of a child paradoxically chafing under parental authority. He goes on to describe that strange masculine pride that stills tongues, scornful of a blessing that fulfills a petition, deeming it inferior to those that arrive unsolicited. The narrator confesses his tardiness in relinquishing this bitterness. Mr. Carter precedes his final stanza by acknowledging the exceptions to this legacy, those occasions characterized by joy, and rarity that stamp a benchmark in the narrator’s memory, producing a fruit of rueful maturity, thereby allowing him the clarity to see the gender-specific estrangement of fathers and sons, hopefully in time to break the cycle. (lines 7-10, 11-14, 18,19)
” We Wear the Mask” holds the greater literary value of the pair. Paul Dunbar writes his poem in first person plural iambic tetrameter (Roberts 845). Mr. Dunbar’s crafts his poem superbly, with an economy of two rhyme sounds, perhaps in part inspired by frustration. Though a respectable contributor to American literature, authoring x books and x poems, Mr. Dunbar achieved widest recognition for his dialectic poems, a relatively narrow slice of his collected works. Readers in the audience identify on one level with the narrator of “We Wear the Mask”. Nonetheless he speaks for a collective, almost unanimously acknowledged as post reconstruction black Americans, though the terms “racial” or “prejudice” remain conspicuously absent in Mr. Dunbar’s poem (Carrol).
The metaphorical mask symbolizes the servile, good-natured impression put forth to lighten the hand of the oppressors, lest they lean too heavily on the Marmeduke of the national household. The complexity of deception Mr. Dunbar describes contrasts sharply with Mr. Carter’s simpler concealment, driven by pride and vulnerability. Mr. Dunbar’s collective dons the mask for more practical reasons, tangible fears of a material nature. The mask conceals the sadness and fatigue of “tortured souls”. The audience notes an unbroken spirit as well, one that “mouth(s) with myriad subtleties”. Mr. Dunbar’s prose draws the reader to wonder if he means subtle double entendres, quietly railing against injustice, myriad mockeries of the status quo that slip unnoticed by the buffoonery of white arrogance, or that narrator simply affirms the powers of black intellect, long discounted by post reconstruction white America.
The Narrator of “We Wear the Mask” asks his confidante “Why should the world be over-wise, in counting all our tears and sighs?” In other words, why reveal vulnerability or true emotion to an enemy? The political climate of 1896 America discouraged vocal protest in no uncertain terms, Mr. Dunbar chose writing as a vocation in spite of this. “We Wear the Mask” begins in earnest transparency, a confession. In the second stanza, the narrator wrestles verbally with his confidante.
“Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.
In the third stanza, The Narrator calls out to his listener by name, and Mr. Dunbar reveals the opponent, who comes as no surprise. After all, The Christian wrestles with God more than any other. At the closing of Mr. Dunbar’s poem we see an appeal to his ultimate authority. In spite of the differences in perspective generated by race, culture, socio-economic status, and nearly one hundred years less social progress, Mr Dunbar and Mr. Carter both weave threads of concealed anguish through their respective poems.
Carrol, William. Essay: “We Wear the Mask.” Galileo. 30 Aug. 2009 < vid="2&hid=" sid="26480cbc-1c20-4745-9b51-9c540cb75075%40sessionmgr111&bdata=" db="lfh&AN=">.
Roberts, Edgar. Literature: An Introduction to Reading and Writing. New York: Longman, 2009.