Grade 10: Masks

To begin. View this film from the Canadian Film Board called Neighbours. Be aware that there is some simulated violence

Neighbours by Norman McLaren, National Film Board of Canada

1. What is your immediate reaction to this film?
2. What is the film-makers theme?
3. Does the technique of animating people like you might animate a puppet add to or detract from the film?

Read a background history of the film from the National Film Board of Canada. Click here: Neighbours

“McLaren got the idea to make the film as a parable on war after a trip to China with UNESCO. He had developed empathy for the Chinese people and was surprised, upon his return to Canada, to discover that China was not seen in a good light. The Korean War had cast the Chinese as the enemy, which upset McLaren and led him to make the film …. He (Mclaren) felt the longer version, with its images of innocent people being attacked, was a strong allegory (allegory) for war, as opposed to the shorter version, which focussed more on a dispute between two people and was somewhat lacking in impact.”

1. In what way does this change your view of the film?
2. View the film again to notice the subtleties – e.g the newspapers in the opening section, the use of colour in the film, the use of light and shade, the irony of the ending.
3. Would this film have been better shot using non animated people?
4. Write a review of the film focussing on the message you get from it and how the filmaker conveys that to you. (Imagine you are a film reviewer – give it a star rating from 0 to 5)

“There is a savage beast in every man, and when you hand that man a sword or spear and send him forth to war, the beast stirs.”
― George R.R. Martin, A Storm of Swords

Masks by Bronwyn Smith

Do you make your own masks to hide something from someone or to gain popularity? Do you make one to hide behind, to cover what is underneath – the real you? Do we make them ourselves or do other people make them for us? If we make them, why do we? Are we so awful underneath, so terrible, that we cannot let other people see?

Must we cover up with some other character, not our own, some mask of how we want to be seen by others? Do we mask ourselves, hiding from what we are, even to ourselves? Do our parents, our families, our teachers, everyone we mix with, grasp the mask they wish us to wear, hold us down and force it on, stretching and gluing it on so that it will never come off? Do you always wear it from then on, being as they want you to be?

But then you see the mask and what they are doing to you. You try to pull it off, but then, back to the mask for safety. Safe from the hurt and harm; no one dare hurt you while you wear the mask.

Do you use different masks for different people? Of course you do. You play innocent at home, good little girl in class, rough and funny in the school yard, shy but outspoken at clubs, rough at weekends. Different masks for everyone you meet and everywhere you go!

Bronwyn Smith

Questions raised by Bronwyn


picture sourced from: personality traits

Scripture Union produced this short film many years ago. It was called In the Bin.

What is the message behind this film?
This story is like a parable – who might the two characters – Arthur Grimble and the dustman represent?
In what ways does the poem below represent ideas contained in the film?

The Mask I Wear

The mask I wear is not my own.
The mask I wear is a tough guy mask
a cool guy mask.
Who am I?
I am a guy who wears a mask
to try to please everyone.
To please one guy I must wear
a tough guy mask;
To please my dad I must
wear a clever mask.
But I ask myself, who am I?
I am a little clever
I am a little cool
I am a little tough
But who am I, then?

Frank D Catanase

picture sourced from

They sit in the classroom like sheep, every one of them. Listening, pretending, acting as if they’re interested.

I sit amongst them. I am also acting. Just like everybody else, I am wearing a mask. Smiling when I should be yelling, being polite when I’m so angry that I should be blowing my stack.

My mask throbs – I long to discard it forever. But I can’t. It is not my mask. It was ground into me when I was five years old. It was my first day at school. I remember my mother saying to me, “Be good! Remember to do what the teacher tells you.”

I wasn’t told why I should do what I was told, only to do it. My mask must remain. Every week until I leave school I must wear it, then I must wear it in the presence of my employer.
It’s fate! It’s not me! I hate it!

Sue Jennings

This is a powerful video clip about mental illness and how people living with that learn to live with masks. Entitled Under My Mask

Under My Mask from mneuhardt on GodTube.

A mask hides a person’s inner feelings, the hurt, the joy and hate.

When people laugh at you, a mask covers up the hurt- it covers it with a smile.

Usually in a group, everybody likes and dislikes the same things, while, underneath they all have mixed feelings but are too afraid to voice their individual opinions.

Everybody wears a mask at some time; in a few cases the mask comes on without them knowing it, because it has become a habit. After a while, people become dependent on their masks so that nobody, not even the individual, knows what they are really like, so that their lives become one eternal mask.

Kerrie McKeown

Here is a PDF link to a story by Cartwright Timms called “John Smith” Masks story

Who am I – do I know who the real me is?


picture sourced from:

The Real Me

like helping people
feel free to talk to almost anyone
on any subject;
am ambitious
a semi-conformist.
I hide into myself
when something is wrong,
I am self-reliant when
sorting out my own problems;
I worry’
when things aren’t as good as they
should be.
Have fits of quietness
and bold bounciness.
Need love – am lost without it;
Insecure, lonely.
I hurt as little as possible.
Live from day to day

Sue Jennings

Not too smart
Always work if I like a subject –
Dislike some teachers,
Easy to get on with –
Hard worker
Don’t like hurting people’s feelings,
Not cruel to animals.
Quiet in some ways –
Always show feelings,
Have the ability to hate.
Make own decisions.
Not courageous,
Get bored easily –
Often lonely

Robert Lamb

I am talkative
I am strong-minded
I am easily led
I am trustworthy
I enjoy life
I’m weak-stomached
I have a love for animals,
peace and joy.
I love the world around me –
the busy city and
the quiet, peaceful countryside.
I am easily upset.
I have a foul temper.
I’m easy to get along with.
This is me without my mask.

Leanne Boyce


picture sourced from:

I hate the mask my parents make me wear – not to drink, smoke or swear.
Don’t be seen with that Skinhead, Jim. You know what the neighbours will think! Be well behaved in front of girls and their parents too, for if you don’t, you’ll smudge your father’s name. You should want to be like your father, Jim – famous, wealthy and respected by all the rich, important people in society, the ones that will get you ahead.

Tony Andrews

I wear a mask for my grandma; she created the mask – I didn’t. It is what she wants of me, not what I want for myself. She likes to see me as bright as a button, hair brushed back from my face and a kiss every time I see her. The mask does not fit me, for when I see my friends I don’t kiss them and have my hair brushed back. I can be myself with my friends. They take me as I really am. If they didn’t, they wouldn’t be my friends. My Gran is great – I wouldn’t wear the mask if I didn’t think so. I wear the mask to please her, but it comes off the minute I step outside. Then on goes my next mask for my mum, cleaning my room and drying the dishes. Pleasing her pleases me and keeps me out of arguments.
I don’t wear a mask for dad – I just don’t need one, mainly because he doesn’t wear a mask for me.

Cathy Gent

This song is written by Jules Riding from his album Cataclysm


1. Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906): We Wear the Mask

WE wear the mask that grins and lies,
It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
This debt we pay to human guile;
With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,
And mouth with myriad subtleties.

Why should the world be over-wise,
In counting all our tears and sighs?
Nay, let them only see us, while
We wear the mask.

We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
To thee from tortured souls arise.
We sing, but oh the clay is vile
Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
But let the world dream otherwise,
We wear the mask!

2. Please hear what I am not saying

Please Hear What I’m Not Saying

Don’t be fooled by me.
Don’t be fooled by the face I wear
for I wear a mask, a thousand masks,
masks that I’m afraid to take off,
and none of them is me.

Pretending is an art that’s second nature with me,
but don’t be fooled,
for God’s sake don’t be fooled.
I give you the impression that I’m secure,
that all is sunny and unruffled with me, within as well
as without,
that confidence is my name and coolness my game,
that the water’s calm and I’m in command
and that I need no one,
but don’t believe me.
My surface may seem smooth but my surface is my mask,
ever-varying and ever-concealing.
Beneath lies no complacence.
Beneath lies confusion, and fear, and aloneness.
But I hide this. I don’t want anybody to know it.
I panic at the thought of my weakness exposed.
That’s why I frantically create a mask to hide behind,
a nonchalant sophisticated facade,
to help me pretend,
to shield me from the glance that knows.

But such a glance is precisely my salvation, my only hope,
and I know it.
That is, if it’s followed by acceptance,
if it’s followed by love.
It’s the only thing that can liberate me from myself,
from my own self-built prison walls,
from the barriers I so painstakingly erect.
It’s the only thing that will assure me
of what I can’t assure myself,
that I’m really worth something.
But I don’t tell you this. I don’t dare to, I’m afraid to.
I’m afraid your glance will not be followed by acceptance,
will not be followed by love.
I’m afraid you’ll think less of me,
that you’ll laugh, and your laugh would kill me.
I’m afraid that deep-down I’m nothing
and that you will see this and reject me.

So I play my game, my desperate pretending game,
with a facade of assurance without
and a trembling child within.
So begins the glittering but empty parade of masks,
and my life becomes a front.
I idly chatter to you in the suave tones of surface talk.
I tell you everything that’s really nothing,
and nothing of what’s everything,
of what’s crying within me.
So when I’m going through my routine
do not be fooled by what I’m saying.
Please listen carefully and try to hear what I’m not saying,
what I’d like to be able to say,
what for survival I need to say,
but what I can’t say.

I don’t like hiding.
I don’t like playing superficial phony games.
I want to stop playing them.
I want to be genuine and spontaneous and me
but you’ve got to help me.
You’ve got to hold out your hand
even when that’s the last thing I seem to want.
Only you can wipe away from my eyes
the blank stare of the breathing dead.
Only you can call me into aliveness.
Each time you’re kind, and gentle, and encouraging,
each time you try to understand because you really care,
my heart begins to grow wings–
very small wings,
very feeble wings,
but wings!

With your power to touch me into feeling
you can breathe life into me.
I want you to know that.
I want you to know how important you are to me,
how you can be a creator–an honest-to-God creator–
of the person that is me
if you choose to.
You alone can break down the wall behind which I tremble,
you alone can remove my mask,
you alone can release me from my shadow-world of panic,
from my lonely prison,
if you choose to.
Please choose to.

Do not pass me by.
It will not be easy for you.
A long conviction of worthlessness builds strong walls.
The nearer you approach to me
the blinder I may strike back.
It’s irrational, but despite what the books say about man
often I am irrational.
I fight against the very thing I cry out for.
But I am told that love is stronger than strong walls
and in this lies my hope.
Please try to beat down those walls
with firm hands but with gentle hands
for a child is very sensitive.

Who am I, you may wonder?
I am someone you know very well.
For I am every man you meet
and I am every woman you meet.

Charles C. Finn
September 1966

Hear the author read his poem

Read what the author said about his poem


Everything you have read, viewed and heard on this page is designed to get you thinking about the theme of masks and how various people have expressed their views.

Write about the following quote by Marty Rubin. This could be in the form of a poem, song, speech, newspaper or magazine article, academic essay, short story. The word length needs to be appropriate to the genre you choose to write in.

“Behind every mask there is a face and behind that a story”

some questions to ponder

Is wearing masks inevitable?
Is it a bad thing, necessary thing, useful thing or worrying thing to be wearing masks?
Isn’t learning to fit into society wearing a mask? Is there such a thing as a civilisation mask?
The Bible talks about us having two natures – how does that fit wiht wearing masks

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