The Gloomy Notes About America's Future in Mckay's Work

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About this sample


Words: 1358 |

Pages: 3|

7 min read

Published: May 24, 2022

Words: 1358|Pages: 3|7 min read

Published: May 24, 2022

As we live our lives we will go through many emotions. These emotions could range from, anger, fear, sadness, or guilt. But one of the most profound emotions that a person can experience in his or her lifetime is love and hate. On paper, these emotions seem like polar opposites as one is associated with attachment and intimacy and the other is associated with detestation and contempt. However, upon deeper analysis, you may find that these emotions can yield some striking similarities. For example, both of these emotions can drive a man or woman to the extreme - so extreme, in fact, that many have killed in both the name of love and hate. Therefore, while these emotions are very different in regards to the connotations that they serve in, the depth and breadth of these emotions are strikingly similar. In the poem, “America” by Claude McKay, we are subjected to both of these emotions in a poem full of division and a lasting statement about society.

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 This piece is a “Shakespearean” sonnet that consists of your standard fourteen lines and is composed of three quatrains and a couplet featuring the traditional ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme scheme. The structure is split into two main stanzas, the first stanza describes McKay’s feelings towards America and the Second stanza shows his feeling of acceptance towards the reader. Throughout the poem, McKay goes back and forth between his positive and negative feelings of both America and the American social norms of the period. This poem was published in the 1920s, more specifically, in 1921. This was a very exciting time for Americans as it was a period of economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge, but there was dark underbelly to America as well at the time. In the south, where McKay resided after immigrating from Jamacia, blacks were being heavily discriminated and their rights were limited due to Jim Crow laws. This bitter division of mixed emotions, which was a prevalent attitude in blacks at the time, is a recurring theme throughout the poem.

 McKay begins to express his contempt for America in the first quatrain; however, he then proceeds to expresses his reliance on the country as well. When McKay says, “Although she feeds me bread of bitterness” (1), he is telling us that he depends on America to feed him as if he is a child that depends on their mother. You’ll also realize that he refers to America as “she” (1), further noting the notion that he depends on the country as a child is depends on this mother. This also leads us to believe that America is the source of his provision, although the food that is being provided is bitter.

 Moving on, McKay felt as if America was draining his life away as evident when he states, “sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth, Stealing my breath of life, I will confess” (2-3). This tells us how the unequal treatment of blacks is slowing draining spirit of life away from McKay. This also shows us the metaphor that McKay used to highlight America’s violence - “tiger’s tooth” (2). It challenges the nation’s own self-conception by comparing America to an exotic foreign animal. We go on, McKay hits us with something we did not expect. “…I must confess, I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!” (3-4) Although Mckay begins the poem with many negative feelings towards America and American society, he ironically then signifies his positive feelings in this line. This is the first outright piece of evidence that McKay used to express his mixed feelings throughout the poem. Even in this line, though, McKay uses the phrase “cultured hell” (4) which an indication that even through positivity, there will always be a negative further proving the point of division. It seems, though, that McKay enjoys the hardships that the American society presented to him during that time. “I love this cultured hell that tests my youth!”

 Continuing, the Second quatrain moves into a more positive thought, seemingly leading us to see some of the reasons why McKay, in fact, has positive feelings towards America. “Her vigor flows like tides into my blood, Giving me strength erect against her hate” (5-6). Lines five and six indicate that the strength of the expanding country was the energy that fueled McKay’s life. The most interesting part of this phrase is the insurgence that the speaker brings out within the conflicting nature of this poem. While McKay is boldly proclaiming that America is the supply of his strength, he is rebellious against the supplier of that strength and exploits it to face up against the racial hatred that was current throughout this point amount in America. Though McKay is standing in strength against the intolerance and injustice among America, he looks to feel as if his personal stand can be insignificant among the larger image of the struggle for equality. “Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood” (7). It's not possible for one person to resist the mighty speeding waters of a flood because it rolls over the land. Perhaps, McKay is expressing the inutility of one person standing against the intolerant history of a nation alone. However, simply because the speaker stands alone in inutility, it doesn't preclude him from taking that stand.

 “Yet as a rebel fronts a king of state, I stand with her walls with not a shred Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer” (8-10). Nothing good usually comes of a person that has to stand before a king. Typically speaking, once this occurs it’s most likely a result of the king either handing down or carrying a judicial sentence. This is another example from within the poem where McKay twists the perceived American social standard and leads the reader down another less traveled path. McKay is standing in confidence in front of the racist ideals that society made normal, just as a rebel would stand pridefully before the king. Noticeably, it's the reaction from the “king” that breaks down the expected barrier within the interaction between the two. He doesn't fall back or strike out, nor will he shout out ill-will words to the people around him. The “rebel” stands without fear before the king within his walls, because there will be no consequence and he will be protected under law. This is yet another metaphor for showing the division of the American ideal and also the reality that existed in America at the time. Free speech is an inalienable right that is guaranteed by the first amendment of the Constitution. Therefore, McKay can stand before the people of American society in confidence because he knows that whatever he says will be protected by law. However, many people in society, especially in the south, didn’t believe the ideals of the “king,” and would bring hate and hostility against McKay for his stance, despite what the king ordered. Actions like these can be found in places where discrimination and racism were running wild throughout society, although the government expressed that all men were created equal and should be afforded equal rights under the law.

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 “America” concludes on a gloomy note as McKay provides his prediction for the future of America. “Darkly I gaze into the days ahead, And see her might and granite wonders there, Beneath the touch of Time’s unerring hand, Like priceless treasures sinking in the sand” (11-14). Traditionally within the United States, in order to pay respect to a particular individual, a group of people, or a monumental event, a monument is created so that people could remember what they did and see the kind of significance they in this country. In this passage, McKay is observing the monuments that were created to remind him of the history and the great deeds the people of America forged. McKay then states that America will eventually change beneath the non-stop pressure posed by the never-ending press of time. It's interesting that McKay uses the phrase “sinking within the sand” (14). This leads the reader to believe that McKay believes that American society will eventually fade away and sink the same way as many great civilizations faded away.  

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The Gloomy Notes About America’s Future In Mckay’s Work. (2022, May 24). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 17, 2024, from
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