Discuss McKays poem America.

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Carmen Sirianni


Claude McKay

In the 1920’s many African Americans compromised themselves by conforming to the ideals of many white Americans.  Segregation in schools, buses and neighborhoods were all common place, many African Americans excepted these terms for the sole purpose of living their lives as happily as they can within the confounds of society.  There were a number people who challenged these beliefs and ideals; some were forceful in their ways and others who were more discreet with their form of protest and opinion.  Claude McKay challenges the ideals in his poem “America” by writing in the traditional form, not separating himself from what is considered the mainstream.  

McKay’s poem “America” is written in the traditional format.  If McKay was to write his poem in the non-traditional sense, he would be immediately separating himself from other authors with his unorthodox style.  Before the poem is examined the reader will make a judgment based on the style of the poem, overshadowing the meaning the author intended. The poem “America” follows a straightforward ABAB CDCD EFEF GG format.  He is writing to a universal audience, one that is not bound by various stigmas of society.  

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  Rather than use form to get his message across, McKay uses more discreet measures to get his point across.  Through the use of imagery McKay is able to provide the reader with a mental image to better describe his message.   McKay begins his poem with a bleak description of America, “Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,/ And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,/ Stealing my breath of life, I will confess”. (Line 1-3)  The opening two lines of the poem create a less than desirable depiction, one that challenges the usual characterization of made America.  


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