Happieness On A Perch During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, the African American population still felt the aftermath of slavery through the beliefs and actions of the white societies.
During slavery African Americans were dehumanized, looked upon as property, and treated worse than animals. Furthermore, slaves were denied the right to life, forced to work endlessly, and suffered abuse from their masters. However, slavery ended in 1865 and yet Africans are still suffering from the entrapment of society. Paul Laurence Dunbars Sympathy, written in 1899 gives the reader a comparison between the life of a caged bird and the African Americans throughout history. Dunbar uses vivid language, repetition, and symbolism to relay his comparison throughout the poem.Ironically, the life of a caged bird is indeed the life of the African American. An African American, like the caged bird, was forced to live in captivity and please others on command.
The second stanza begins with I know why the caged bird beats his wing(8). The speaker understands why the caged bird fights both physically and emotionally to be set free. The caged bird is willing to inflict pain unto itself in order to break the bars that surround his prison.The bird is beat up emotionally because his frustration and anger will never be satisfied by the freedom his wishes for. The longer the bird expends its energy to get out of the cage the more physically and emotionally beat up the bird will become. The bird does not cease to stop fighting Till its blood is red on the cruel bars(9). The blood on the bars of his cage marks both the bird and the African Americans strength in battle for freedom and success.
Both are willing to inflict pain on themselves in order to gain freedom.The blood is also ambiguous because it symbolizes the bird and African Americans identity. The African American society lives feeling that they are trapped in a cage; however, instead of bars there are racists and stereotypes. Once the bird realizes that he has lost yet another battle for freedom he then must fly back to his perch and cling(10). However, the bird would much rather be happily swinging on a high branch in the trees bough-a-swing. One may recognize that both the perch, and the branch are both places of rest for the bird, yet, a perch is small and enclosed while the branch allows for flight in endless directions.African Americans were rarely allowed off their plantations during slavery.
Once slavery was abolished African Americans were still not allowed freedom of choice of schools, stores, jobs, and where they lived. Society acts as a cage that entraps African Americans freedom. Generation after generation, enslaved Africans were unable to celebrate freedom however, their battle never stopped. Dunbar exemplifies this struggle in lines (12,13)And the pain still throbs in the old, old, scars./ And they pulse again with a keener sting—.
Scars result in toughening of skin, leaving it harder for blood to seep through the same wounds over and over again. Both the bird and the African Americans desire for freedom never died down, only grew stronger and more relentless. American slavery produced some fearless and implacable revolutionaries.
From the first thousand slaves that created Gabriels Conspiracy in 1800 to Nat Turner in 1831 and many instances that still occur today, African American never stopped fighting or gave up hope. Dunbars Sympathy evokes compassion in the reader by comparing the image of a caged bird to the life of an African American.The reader finishes the poem feeling a sense of sympathy towards the delicate bird, however, the bird is indeed the perfect comparison to the life of an African American.