Political Satire in Claude McKay’s Amiable with Big Teeth

June 7, 2022 by Essay Writer

Claude McKay is a prominent African American writer of twentieth century. He was born in Jamaica in 1889. He has written four novels. His novels mainly focus on race, colour, sex, gender, social justice, education, culture, and so on. His fourth novel Amiable with Big Teeth is a satirical, political and also historical fiction. The novel delineates how the African Diaspora people were dominated by tShe white communists in Harlem. In 1930s, the people protested for black freedom. The novel has written in 1940, but the publisher, E.P. Dutton rejected this novel because of its climax. Later, a research scholar Jean Christophe Cloutier found the novel and published in 2017 with the help of his research supervisor Brend Hayes Edwards. Geoffrey Jacques in his article “Amiable with Big Teeth: A Novel Love Affair between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem,” says E.P. Dutton rejects the novel because the author Claude McKay depicts African American and anti communist literature as a growing body.

In 1936 the author McKay sets the novel in Harlem. In this novel the readers can understand the unity and patriotism through so many agitations. For instance, when the invasion of Italy Lij Tekla Alamaya, an envoy of Ethiopia came to Harlem for fund collections. The black people of America organized an association and collected fund for the Ethiopian blacks. Through this incident the novelist emphasizes the unity between the black people. An another organization called the white friends of Ethiopia headed by Maxim Tasan, who is a white communist shows his supremacy on the life of black people. Tasan took the letter of Lij Tekla Alamaya without his knowledge and declares him as a liar in the magazine Labor Herald. Power politics of Maxim Tasan in Claude McKay’s Amiable with Big Teeth can be associated with that of Satan in Paradise Lost Book IX. One of McKay’s 1939 articles in The New Leader may come closest to the title of the novel in describing the communist threat: But the communist hyena disguised as shepherd dog is the sinister enemy that work havoc in the sheepfold under cover of darkness. He is assiduous in unhappy Harlem, often prowling behind the senses, ready pounce upon every social issue and converts it into an empty slogan and seeking by any means to discredit the wary individuals and groups that keep him out (AWBT xxxi-xxxii).

The novelist employs a simile to describe the word hyena is a reference to Communists. Flagg says, I have to use my head against the hyena and when Lij Alamaya is shown evidence that Maxim Tasan is responsible for the theft of his official letter from the emperor, he punches Tasan in disgust and cries out, I’ m getting out of this hyena’s lair. But although McKay makes recourse to similar metaphors on numerous occasions in his articles and poems, there does not seem to be an instance where he employs the exact phrasing “Amiable with Big Teeth” that provides the vivid and arresting title of the novel. Griffin Oleynick in his article “Prophet of Harlemt” says about the unusual novel’s title Amiable with Big Teeth readers can understand with the help of the Bible. The novel’s title is in fact a creative reworking of a passage from Matthew 7, where Jesus warns his disciple to be wary of false prophets those who appear in sheep’s clothing like amiable but underneath their disguise are really ravenous wolves like with big teeth. The subtile, A Novel of the Love Affair between the Communist and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem, translates Christ’s metaphor into an explicit simile, the white Communists and their back allies are false prophets who prey like wolves on the economically destitute, politically leaderless, and morally vulnerable sheep of Harlem.

The novel’s anti-Italian demonstration is led by the Sufi Abdul Hamid whom McKay characterizes as a labor leader and sidewalk agitator. He is clearly based on a black Harlem community organizer of the period who renamed himself Sufi Abdul Hamid after his conversation to Islam. Hamid was involved in the do not buy where can’ the boy-cott of 1935, which forced Harlem stores to hire black clerks. Through this events McKay explain Fascism is the enemy. Fascism declared war on Ethiopia and all the people of the world. The machine and the mechanized units of hell are fighting against the people. The triumvirate of the Fascist, Hitler, Mussolini and Trotsky, cannot triumph against him. And we will tolerate no fascists in our midst deceiving and misleading the people. We cannot defend Ethiopia; we cannot save Ethiopia with Fascists in our organizations. For the fascist are the fangs of the serpent and the claws of the dragon, the tiger, the hyena and wolf destroying the free life and security of the people (AWBT 94).

McKay explains about the novel great villain Maxim Tasan was not a Fascist nor was he communists. McKay said the Fascists, Nazis and Communists all believed in and practiced a ruthless dictatorship over the peoples. McKay could not imagine how a nation which held down millions of people under the iron dictatorship could be the chief sponsor of a people’s iron to safeguard democracy. Even though, they cannot prevent the party’s agents in Harlem from wrecking their efforts. What stops them is not the party’s control, but rather Ethiopia’s defeat. Haile Selassie’s troops were armed with spears when they faced Italian tanks. The novel has to do with political control of the African American community’s response to fascism. For McKay and others who shared his views, the role of the Communist Party in the black movement was one of interloper, and that’s one reason why Tasan, the novel’s villain, is rendered as a mysterious and sinister Comintern agent of vague Eastern European origin. Tasan has an African American coworker, the school teacher turned activist Newton Castle. Fischer Mike explained in his review entitled “Review: ‘Amiable with Big Teeth,’ by Claude McKay” discussed many of the characters’ intension in McKay’s novel, particularly explained about why some of them are attracted to Maxim Tasan, a White organizer the communist party who is reminiscent of the satanic Brother Jack in Ellison’s Invisible Man. Maxim is the hungry, sharp-toothed wolf in sheep’s clothing suggested by McKay’s life.

In the collection of Claude McKay’s papers in The New York Public Library, Schomburg center for research in black culture, stated about McKay address to the fourth congress, he mourned for the fact that race prejudice among socialist and communist of America prevented them from facing the Negro Question. McKay wanted the attendees to understand the significance and potential of the international communist movement for blacks. Motivated by McKay’s speech, the Comintern formed a Negro commission however McKay was not selected to be a member, although the party’s embrace of him was echoed by the general population in Russia. Through his stay in Russia, which ended in 1923, he was feted as a great writer. In the 1930s, McKay’s open criticism of international communism as a mechanism for the spread of anti dominance by the Soviet Union led to his being viewed with suspicion. He distanced himself from the party and never became a member of the communist party. Amiable with Big Teeth depicts the attempts of prominent Harlem citizens to organize aid for Ethiopia when Mussolini invaded the African kingdom in the autumn of 1935. This was the period of the popular front, when soviet policy was to act in coalition liberal organizations and democratic governments throughout the west resist fascism (Claude McKay 6).

In Gene Andrew Jarrett’s A Companion to African American Literature defines about symbolic of African American artistic activity between the mid – 1930s and the mid – 1950s – from the Harlem Renaissance. Although numerous artistic forms emerged under the auspices of both movements, the literary epitome of the Chicago Renaissance including Wright, Gwendolyn Brooks, Margaret Walker, Frank Marshall Davis, Willard Motley, and William Attaway, were famous for their expertise with social or documentary realism about Several attended to the cultural, environmental, and psychological circumstances of Chicago itself, and not infrequently incorporated a host of material, ideological, and political themes, ranging from plebeianism and proletarianism to the Popular Front and the Communist Party. Throughout the novel McKay discusses the danger of Negroes comes under the control of Moscow dominated Communists exploiting their grievances which of course is the main theme of Amiable with Big Teeth as well McKay goes so far as to declare that the communist dictatorship is a greater danger to human than the Nazi dictatorship. In Harlem: Negro Metropolis, he complains that in the late 1930s Harlem was overrun with the white communist who promoted themselves as the only leaders of the Negroes. It is logical, then that in writing Amiable with Big Teeth, McKay would set this theme in the context of pro-Ethiopian activism, since it was during the Italo-Ethiopian crisis that McKay had first inveighed against the pattern of Communist intervention.

At the same time, McKay was equally consistent in his commitment to social and economic justice, and as the fall of 1938 McKay explicitly praised the communist party for its role in labor relations in the United States, writing in one article that it must be admitted that more than any other group the communists should be credited with the effective organizing of the unemployed and relief workers. What McKay rejected, was not the principles of unionism or Marxism it, but instead the basic political ideology of communism: McKay said, I reject absolutely the idea of government by dictatorship, which is the pillar of political communism. While critical of the popular front, which consider a smoke screen, McKay was above all worried that black political organizations would be manipulated for purely propagandist ends as a member of this group and also as a radical thinker, McKay says in his novel, I am especially concerned about its future and the danger of its being maneuvered through high powered propaganda into the morass of communist opportunism. As he rephrased his objection in Harlem: Negro Metropolis, the communists were out to exploit all the social disadvantages of the Negro minority for propaganda effect, but they were little interested in practical efforts to improves the social conditions of that minority. To sum up, Claude McKay in Amiable with Big Teeth highlights how the African Diaspora people were dominated by the white communists in Harlem, New York city in during 1930s. This paper depicts it is a wonderful memorable political satire novel and also author of the novel’s most realized literary expression of McKay desire for greater group solidarity among African Americans.


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