Claude McKay’s America as an Examination on Love and Hate of America
Claude McKay’s ‘America’ is a poem published in 1921, which examines the themes of love and hatred towards America within the black community. ‘America’ is a wonderful piece of literature, which uses symbolical imagery and the means of meter and rhyme in order to express the duality of the writer’s feelings towards the oppressive and hypocritical American society. ‘America’ is written in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet and consists of 14 lines. By calling America ‘her,’ McKay makes use of the means of personification and presents the country as a living being (McKay, ‘America’). The rhyme scheme of the poem also reminds the readers of William Shakespeare’s style (abab, cdcd, efef, gg) and is used to reflect the duality of the author’s feeling towards America (Denize and Newlin 103). The writer, for example, states that, although his country feeds him ‘bread of bitterness’ and tries to choke him by sinking its ‘tiger’s tooth’ into his throat, he still has warm feelings for it (McKay, ‘America’). Moreover, the author makes use of iambic pentameter in order to give a sense of rhythm to the poem.
The first quatrain of the poem describes the discord within the soul of the writer. Claude McKay states that, although he loves his country, these feelings bring him pain because America steals his ‘breath of life’ (McKay, ‘America’). In the writer’s eyes, America is a vampire that feasts upon his veins in order to sustain itself. McKay also compares the country to a wild tiger: ‘And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth’ (McKay, ‘America’). The author’s intuition tells him that the tiger’s exotic nature reflects America’s multicultural society. Moreover, the stripes on the back of the animal symbolize the stripes of the American flag. By making this comparison, McKay points out that America is a deadly predator that uses the most inhuman methods in order to torture the black community.
The second part of the poem, which consists of the lines 5-10, provides additional insight into the author’s feelings towards America. McKay compares the country to a giant river or even a sea by saying that America’s ‘vigor flows like tides’ into his veins and that she sweeps him ‘like a flood’ (McKay, ‘America’). The writer points out that the country overwhelms him, giving him strength and inspiration, even despite her violent attitude towards him and other black people: ‘Giving me strength erect against her hate’ (McKay, ‘America’). However, although the author describes America in a positive light, he tries to restrain his affection for the country and chooses neutral words such as, for example, ‘bigness’ instead of ‘splendor’ (McKay, ‘America’). In the lines 8-10, the writer hints at the hypocrisy of the American society, suggesting that America has more similarities with the monarchical governments than the democratic states.
The final quatrain of the poem introduces the readers to the writer’s predictions of the future of the country. McKay starts this section with the words ‘darkly I gaze into the days ahead,’ suggesting that America’s future is going to be bleak (McKay, ‘America’). The writer knows that every empire is doomed to fall and states that hands of time will eventually smite the country and bury it deep beneath the sand. Claude McKay intentionally places the words ‘sinking in the sand’ at the end of the poem in order to show the fate of America (McKay, ‘America’). The author points out that, despite its brilliance and grandeur, America will be destroyed and eventually forgotten. All things considered, ‘America’ is a complex poem, which uses such literary devices as meter, rhyme, and symbols in order to convey the ambivalent feelings of the author towards America and its society. Although it drinks life out of him and considers him a second-class citizen, McKay has deep feelings for the country. The writer finds strength in the sea of American hatred and knows that the future of the country is not going to be bright.
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Claude McKay’s ‘America’ is a poem published in 1921, which examines the themes of love and hatred towards America within the black community. ‘America’ is a wonderful piece of literature, […]