We Wear The Mask
by Paul Dunbar Throughout literature, one discovers that there are various reoccurring themes or motifs. Paul Laurence Dunbar's poem, "We Wear the Mask," lends itself to the motif of masks, as do George Orwell's "Shooting an Elephant" and Santha Rau's "By Any Other Name." When compared with Dunbar's poem, the characters in the works of Orwell and Rau show that they wear masks in order to feel accepted and to avoid humiliation. Everyone wishes to feel accepted in life, and the characters in the works by Orwell and Rau are no exception. They wish to fit in with their peers, so they "wear the mask that grins and lies"(Dunbar 1). These characters will hide what they really feel so that they may feel accepted. In his tale, "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell wants to fit the part of an ordinary police officer. He says to himself, "A sahib has got to act like a sahib" (Orwell 644). He knows he has to play the right role or people might not accept him. He acts very brave because a "white man mustn't be frightened in front of [the] natives" (645). Orwell knows the importance of the Europeans appearing superior to the natives. However, the characters in Rau's story, "By Any Other Name," also wear a mask in order to feel accepted. The way her peers view her concerns the little Indian girl with the enormous black eyes. When eating lunch, she looks longingly at Cynthia's Indian food, but when offered some she "only shook her head and plowed her way solemnly through her sandwiches" (Rau 655). She does not wish to be disliked for what her family eats, but still salivates at the sight of it. Premila also worries about what her peers think of her. Even though she still loves her Indian food, she suggests to her mother, "We should take sandwiches to school [tomorrow]" (656). Premila wishes to feel accepted by the other children. Another character who wishes to feel accepted is Cynthia. Cynthia looks around at the other children's dresses and knows they "should have looked strange" (654), but she said to herself, "I should ask my mother if I couldn't wear a dress to school, too, instead of my Indian clothes" (654). She does not wish to stand out among the other children. On the other hand, no one likes being humiliated. It is a horrible experience and most people would do anything to avoid it. Most would wear a mask while smiling "with torn and bleeding hearts" (Dunbar 4). The characters in the works of Orwell and Rau do just that. They hide their true feelings to avoid humiliation. In the story, "Shooting an Elephant," Orwell wears a mask to hide his many embarrassments. He feels humiliated when the young Buddhist priests jeer at him, but he ignores it. Orwell will later wear a mask to avoid farther humiliation, or to avoid "looking and feeling a fool" (Orwell 643). He decides that, in order to prevent his humiliation, he must shoot the elephant against his wishes. After all, he must not let anyone laugh at him because "every white man's life in the East, was one long struggle not to be laughed at" (644). From this example, one can infer that Orwell shot the elephant "solely to avoid looking like a fool" (647). On the same note, the characters in Rau's story, "By Any Other Name," also do not wish to feel humiliated. Having the other children laugh at her for not remembering her English name, embarrasses Cynthia. To avoid further embarrassment, she "sat down quickly and opened [her] eyes very wide, hoping in that way to dry them off" (Rau 654). She did not wish for the other children to see her tears. Premila is also wary of being humiliated. Premila is furious after seeing Santha running towards their nanny shouting "Ayah, Ayah" (656). She later tells Santha to "never do that again in front of the other children" (656). Her little sister embarrasses her. What is more important, there is only one character who does not wear a mask. This character is Santha, from "By Any Other Name". She is able to distinguish herself as two totally different characters with different beliefs and different morals. These two characters are Cynthia(her school time character) and herself(out of school character). Santha says to herself, "I remember having a certain detached and disbelieving concern in the actions of 'Cynthia,' but certainly no responsibility" (Rau 654). She feels sympathy towards Cynthia but does not she has to answer for her actions. In conclusion, one uses a mask to hide behind. Whether it be from humiliation or non-acceptance, people will use masks to hide their true emotions. Dunbar's poem has a mask motif. As one can see, Orwell and Rau use the mask motif to show how their characters wish to hide their insecurities. One can compare these tales with Dunbar's poem and recognize the similar motifs.