In Paul Laurence Dunbar's "Sympathy", when comparing the caged bird to suppressed black people in America, is the poet using metaphor or symbol?


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Extended metaphor in poetry In his poem “Sympathy,” Paul Laurence Dunbar uses a caged bird as an extended metaphor for the entire Black community during the era of slavery. The writer compares the bird’s struggle to be free and the wounds it sustains to the suffering of the slaves.

Extended metaphor example in Paul Laurence Dunbar’s “Sympathy”
I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
When he beats his bars and he would be free;
It is not a carol of joy or glee,
But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,
But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
I know why the caged bird sings!



Metaphor and symbolism are related, but in symbolism, the thing another object stands for is generally more complex and abstract than in metaphor. Therefore, in this case, the bird itself represents oppressed black people, so metaphor is used for the specific case you ask about. Here is some information that supports this contention:

Is there a fine line between symbolism and metaphors in literature? - English SE

The Difference Between Metaphors and Symbols - The Sceptical Prophet

  • You may well be right, but it's hard to tell because this answer is so short and unsupported. Could you possibly edit to include some backup for your definitions of metaphor and symbolism? Thanks! :-)
    – Rand al'Thor
    Commented Jan 1, 2018 at 13:23
  • Whoops, knew I shouldn't have written it that fast. Well, I've added some more links that should hopefully give more support. Commented Jan 2, 2018 at 20:24

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