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Harlem Renaissance Poem Analysis

Anton Vayedjian | P8 Hunt | PIB LA 9


The poem America by Claude McKay, was written in the early 1920s.
The symbolism, meaning, detail, and emotion that have gone into the short
poem, are unparalleled by any other, and the life of McKay and inspiration
behind this piece are truly spectacular.
Simply looking at the first three lines of the poem, it is evident that
Claude McKay is referring to all the struggles he faced after arriving in
America. Although she feeds me bread of bitterness, (McKay 1) signifies
McKays mistreatment by common people, and he continues to emphasize
this mistreatment as he goes on and states, And sinks into my throat her
tigers tooth, (McKay 2). Throughout the era of the Harlem Renaissance,
blacks were commonly mistreated, subject to constant hate crimes, and even
murdered. Stealing my breath of life, I will confess, (McKay 3) shows how
the negative view of him by the public, almost took away his will to live. The
author then bounces back with, I love this cultured hell that tests my youth.
Her vigor flows like tides into my blood, giving me strength erect against her
hate, (McKay 4-6). The hatred of the people feeds him, and McKay feels
that he grows stronger when he stands up to the detest. As the poem
continues, the poet wishes to further stress that he is not frightened by the
hate and that he ignores it often, I stand within her walls with not a shred of
terror, malice, not a word of jeer. (McKay 9-10). There is more closure in the
coming lines, and the conclusion is arguably the most controversial piece of
America. The final lines read, And see her might granite wonders there,
beneath the touch of Times unerring hand, like priceless treasures sinking in
the sand. Is McKay trying to say that America, the treasure, will eventually
go from a strong, hate-filled country, to a forgotten one? Or is he speaking
literally regarding the countrys enormous structures and money (treasure)
and the inevitable demise? He fills these lines with such mystery and

curiosity. Overall, we can conclude that McKay has mixed feelings for the
United States, but the passion it took to write this poem prove that America
has impacted him greatly.

Structurally, it is obvious that this poem is quite unique. When


published in Liberator, America was spaced very similarly to the poem
format that is provided by Poetry Foundation. McKay uses the large spacing
and commas after sentences to give a more poetic touch to a piece that
when left unaltered, could be thought of as a narrative written in McKays
perspective.

Works Cited

McKay, Claude. America. PoetryFoundation.org. Web. 14 May 2015.


McKay, Claude. Harlem Shadows: The Poems of Claude McKay. Harcourt,
Brace, 1922. Web. 14 May 2015.
Boyd, Natalie. Claude McKay: Role in Harlem Renaissance & America
Analysis Study.com Web. 14 May 2015.