Camille Y. Gomez


African-American Poetry

“Enslaved” Revision


“Enslaved”:  An Explicative Analysis

                Claude McKay’s “Enslaved” discusses exactly what the title suggests, slavery.  In this poem, McKay utilizes repetition of various hard and soft consonant sounds to contribute to the general theme of oppressive white power over the despondent blacks.  One of the most noticeable patterns in the poem is the constant hissing sound produced by the “s” in various words in each line.  This hissing sound generates the image of a snake in the reader’s mind.

Oh when I think of my long-suffering race

In this line, the poet uses the words “suffering” and “race” in their connotative meaning to emphasize the importance of this opening line.  These two words now assume different qualities, those of a slithering snake.

For weary centuries despised, oppressed,

The poet is taking the reader on a journey; the snake is the tour guide.  In this line the repetition of the hissing sound is heard in the words “centuries”, “despised”, and “oppressed”.  However, the poet also introduces contrast between soft sounds and hard sounds.  The “d” sound in contrast with the “s” sound represents the contrast between the white oppressors and the enslaved blacks.

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Enslaved and lynched, denied a human place

The contrast between hard and soft (blacks and whites) continues.  The reader realizes the importance of the continuous hissing as it is repeated in the word “Enslaved”, the title of the poem.

In the great life line of the Christian West;

The poet introduces religion in this line.  In keeping with the contrast he has established, the poet uses one word to demonstrate it in this line.  “Christian” contains both the hard and the soft sound, representing the contrast between prayer that black slaves constantly employed, and the slithering snake, symbolic of the ...

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