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Political Satire in Claude Mckay's Amiable with Big Teeth

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Claude McKay, a prominent African American writer of the twentieth century, one of the famous pioneers of the black American literature, gives an exact picture about how the African Diaspora people are dominated by the white communists in the Harlem in 1930s. His fourth novel Amiable with Big Teeth is a political and historical fiction. It deals with the efforts of Harlem intelligentsia to form an organization to support the liberation of the fascist controlled Ethiopia. Maxim Tasan is the antagonist of the novel, who is a white communist. Through the character of Tasan, McKay depicts the popular front of the white communist in the second half of the 1940s and 1950s of the Harlem Renaissance. The author focuses on the international issues and shows how the renaissance continued as a vibrant thing during the time. He also highlights how the African Diaspora people in Harlem and Ethiopia are colonized, opposed, and dominated by the white communists. Simultaneously, McKay presents how the blacks feel proud of their black heritage and expressed their protest against the white communists and Mussolini’s dictatorship and fascism.

Key words: Political satire, Fascism, Comintern, Dictatorship, and Popular front.novel’s miscreant, is rendered as a baffling and vile Comintern specialist of ambiguous Eastern European root. Tasan has an African American collaborator; the teacher turned dissident Newton Mansion.

Fischer Mike in his review entitled “Review: ‘Amiable with Big Teeth,’ by Claude McKay” states that the characters in his novel, helps to explain them, they are attracted to Maxim Tasan, who is reminiscent of the satanic Brother Jack in Ellison’s Invisible Man. Maxim is a hungry, sharp-toothed wolf in sheep’s clothing as suggested by McKay’s title.

In the collection of Claude McKay’s manuscripts in The New York Public Library, Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture highlight McKay’s address to the fourth congress, that he grieved for the way that race bias among socialist and communist of America prevented them from facing the Negro’s question. McKay needed the participants to comprehend the centrality and capability of the worldwide socialist development for blacks. Motivated by McKay’s discourse, the Comintern framed a Negro commission. However, McKay was not chosen to be a part, despite the fact that the gathering’s grip of him was resounded by the all inclusive community in Russia. Through his stay in Russia, which finished in 1923, he was feted as an extraordinary author.

During the 1930s, McKay’s open analysis of the international communism as a component for the spread of hostile to strength by the Soviet Association prompted his being seen with doubt. He separated himself from the gathering and never turned into an individual from the communist party. This was the period of the popular front when the Soviet policy was to act in coalition with liberal organizations and democratic governments throughout the west to resist fascism.

Gene Andrew Jarrett, in A Companion to African American Literature explains 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 the 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. Several attended to the cultural, environmental, and psychological circumstances of Chicago itself, and infrequently incorporated a host of material, ideological, and political themes, ranging from plebeianism and proletarianism to the popular front and it is used by the communist party.

Throughout the novel, McKay examines how the Negroes come under the control of Moscow dominated communists exploiting their grievances, which obviously is the main theme of Amiable with Big Teeth. The author declares that “the communist dictatorship is a greater danger to humanity than the Nazi dictatorship”. In addition, he has also explained in one of his non fictions Harlem: Negro Metropolis (1940) that in late 1930s “Harlem was overrun with white communists who promoted themselves as the only leaders of the Negroes. They were converting a few Negroes into Bolshevik propagandists, but they were actually doing nothing to help alleviate the social misery of Negroes”.

At the same time, McKay is equally consistent in his commitment to social and economic justice. At the end of 1938 he explicitly praises the communist party for its role in labor relations in the United States, has written in his 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. Therefore, what McKay rejected was not the principles of unionism or Marxism, but the basic political ideology of communism. Hence he mentioned in his novel, “I reject absolutely the idea of government by dictatorship, which is the pillar of political communism”. While critical of the popular front, which is considered as a smoky screen, McKay, as a member of this group and also a radical thinker has worried that black political organizations would be manipulated for purely propagandist and their ends. He was particularly worried about its future and the threat of its being moved through powerful publicity into the bog of socialist advantage. 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 improve the social conditions of the black 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 in 1930s. In the novel antagonist Tasan digs his own grave on his back in the name of communism. At the end of the novel Professor Koazhy creates awareness and tries to unite the African Diasporas. This paper depicts that it is a political satire and it is the most realized literary expression of the author. It highlights McKay’s desires for the greater group of solidarity among the African Americans.

Works cited

  • McKay, Claude. Amiable with Big Teeth. New York: Penguin, 2017. Print.
  • Cloutier, Jean-Christophe and Brent Hayes Edwards. Introduction. Amiable with Big Teeth. By Claude McKay. New York: Penguin, 2017. xxix-xxx. Print.
  • Ellison, Ralph. Invisible Man. United States: Random House, 1952. Print.
  • Milton, John. Paradise Lost. Indianapolis: Hackett, 2005. Print.
  • Jarrett, Gene Andrew. Introduction. A Companion to African American Literature. Ed. Gene Andrew Jarret. UK: John Wiley, 2013. 1-8. Print.
  • Jaques, Geoffry. “Amiable with Big Teeth: A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem.” American Communist History 17.2 (28 March 2018): 261-63. Web. 18 May 2019.
  • Fischer, Mike. Review: ‘Amiable with Big Teeth,’ by Claude McKay. n.pag. 13 February 2017. Web. 16 April 2018. < www. Startribune.com/review- amiable-with-big-teeth-by-claude-mckay/413603933/>
  • McKay, Claude. Claude McKay Letters and Manuscripts. 1915-1952. N. d. Ts Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. 10037. The New York Public Lib., The New York.
  • Oleynick, Griffin. “Prophet of Harlem.” Commonweal 144.12 (7 July 2017): 23.

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