AP Lit and Comp
6 November 2014
Paul Lawrence Dunbar was born in in Ohio in 1872. Dunbar faced racial prejudice and discrimination in the job market. The only job he was able to obtain was an elevator operator. He spent long hours going up and down between floors which he used to write a book called Oak and Ivy which he published his poetry in 1893. Kate Chopin was born in Missouri in 1850. She married Oscar Chopin, a Creole cotton broker, who gave Ms. Chopin many freedoms that other women of the time did not have. Other woman raised their eyebrows at her when she expressed these freedoms. Dunbar and Chopin lived during the same time period in which they felt constrained or oppressed by the society in some way. They both desired freedom from the society in which they wanted to break free from. They took these oppressions and constraints and put them in their writings. Paul Dunbar publishes his poem, “Sympathy”, in 1893. The poem is about a bird who is peeking outside his cage. The bird sees a beautiful landscape with the sun shining bright. The author continues the poem by stating he knows the way the bird feels which is constrained, oppressed, and imprisoned. The second stanza mentions the bird banging his wings against the bars until it bleeds. However, the bird has to stay in the cage when it would rather perch on a swinging branch. The bird's "old, old scars" suggest that the bird has done this many times before, wanting terribly to get out which shows that the bird has not given up hope despite a lifetime of captivity. The final stanza is about the bird singing, not of "joy or glee" but of prayer. The bird is asking God to let him leave his cage to enjoy the beauties of the outside world. Dunbar states he knows why the bird acts this way and even suggests that he does the same.
The poem is an extended metaphor for how Dunbar feels about his life and how many blacks felt during the time of its writing. They felt trapped inside a cage, wishing they could get out and enjoy the other areas of life the same way whites could. However, no matter how hard they tried and prayed, it was impossible. But even knowing their fate, they continue…