The poem Sympathy, by Paul Laurence Dunbar suggests to the reader a comparison between the lifestyle of the caged bird, and the African American in the nineteenth century. Paul Laurence Dunbar's focus of Sympathy is how the African American identifies and relates to the frustrations and pain that a caged bird experiences. Dunbar begins the poem by stating, I know what the caged bird feels, alas! which illustrates the comparison of a caged bird to an African American. Dunbar writes a poem with vivid and descriptive language throughout.
Dunbar uses this to emphasize his point that someone tied up in bondage and chains figuratively is not fortunate enough to enjoy the finer things in life. Sadly, springing grass, a flowing river, and budding flowers are things that unoppressed people might take for granted (For a slave or someone struggling to get on their feet post slavery, could not take the time to enjoy life's pleasures in which Dunbar symbolically uses nature.) Dunbar uses language that reaches out, striking a personal chord with the reader.
Grass, river, or flowers may be objects we enjoy, but underprivileged people, not necessarily minorities, cannot enjoy because of social or economic circumstances. Underprivileged people may see white people doing what they enjoy and work themselves into a frustrated frenzy because try as they might, the deck is stacked against them. Ironically, the life of the caged bird is the life of the African American. During the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the black population was enslaved and tortured by the white population.
African Americans were looked down upon with disgust and inequity. The whites forced the blacks to become slaves to them because the white population possessed all of the power and wealth in America at that time; therefore, the black population had no choice but to be enslaved. African Americans were not given the chance to flourish and grow. In essence, African Americans were prisoners in their own home i. e. like the caged bird.
The life of a caged bird is similar. Caged birds too are like prisoners in their own home. A caged bird is not allowed to use its ability to fly, to explore, and to be free. Instead, the caged bird is forced to be on his perch and cling when he fain would be on the bough a-swing. (Lines 10, 11) Dunbar identifies the African American lifestyle with what the caged bird feels. In the first stanza, Dunbar writes about the beauty of nature. He writes of when the sun is bright on the upward slopes; And the river flows like a stream of glass; When the first bird sings and the first bud opes, And the faint perfume from its chalice steals and then Dunbar writes I know what the caged bird feels.
(Lines 2-7) Interpretivly, Dunbar seems to be relating the caged bird's sadness that stems from not being allowed to enjoy the mysterious beauties of nature. Dunbar attempts to bring the reader into the first stanza by evoking emotion and refection of the beautiful things that all humans should be able to experience. In the second stanza, Dunbar refers to the emotional and physical abuse that imprisonment and enslavement evokes both in the caged bird and the African American.
He begins this stanza with, I know why the caged bird beats his wing. (Line