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The Theme of Mortality in We Must Die by Claude Mckay

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In the poem “​We Must Die​” written by Claude Mckay, the deeper meaning behind his word choice and structure of sentences is presented starting from the beginning of the poem. What stuck out in this poem was the eeriness of the words and the images that linger in your head when you try to comprehend what the author is trying to say using symbolism and metaphors. Throughout the poem Claude Mckay reveals the theme of mortality and begins to expand on the idea of the human being by using lines in the poem to reveal his feelings.

In lines 1 and 2 Claude Mckay writes that, “If we must die, let it not be like hogs Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot”, and these lines convey the importance of dignity in people’s lives and how special it is to us and no matter how we live our lives in the end to show compassion to everyone. The real world definition of dignity is the quality in being worthy of honor and or respect. In the previous lines he is asking for respect in the timing of our deaths to be treated as equals to have the same opportunities as everyone else and not to be subjected as caged animals. The author writes in line 5 “If we must die, O let us nobly die” expanding on the idea that when the time comes for us to pass on we ask to be remembered by only the good things and to not be belittled in wake of our death. He wants the readers to understand that there is more to life than meets the eye, with experiences and opportunities. These first couple sentences in the poem portray such mortality and explain that people have to overcome obstacles and get to a place in life where they are able to thrive and be happy because not everything lasts forever. Death is inevitable and so all one can do is live their lives to the fullest extent. 

The key points in this text are revealed through the tone and emotion behind the authors words, connecting to the reader and developing special connections between the poem and the audience. Mckay uses figurative language such as metaphors and compares objects to provide clarity to the similar meanings. The author also uses symbolism to try and get you to paint a picture in your mind of what you think he is talking about. The author writes in line 9 “O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe!” kinsmen is a person of close relations and this line is saying that everyone must come together to find a common enemy and figure out how to resolve their conflicts. Claude Mckay writes in line 10 and 11 “ though far outnumbered let us show us brave, and for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!” these two lines show that people are willing to give their all in order to thrive and become the best they can possibly be. 

Claude Mckay reveals the theme of mortality and expands off this idea throughout the poem making comparisons and connecting ideas together to make the point clear. Humans are not objects and they should be treated with respect, the text gives off a hint of segregation and racial superiority. This poem was written in the 1920s which was during the Harlem Renaissance and African Americans had to deal with hardships and had to learn how to surpass all the bad things as the laws and acts were being passed. The social aspect during this time was expression and creativity and providing a positive self image for the race, however in the poem you can begin to see the deterioration in freedom. Mckay gives the poem a meaning of having to overcome obstacles in your life and be able to work harder and harder everyday because nothing is ever just handed to you. The author somewhat hints at the time period through his word choice which is somewhat relic at points, he also hints that the poem could have a hidden meaning with the racism that was going on at this time. Throughout the poem the author sprinkles different meanings within the poem but ties them all back together with a common theme and is able to describe what he was thinking as he wrote this. The author writes this rhetorical question “What though before us lies the open grave?” meaning that as you are living your life it may all of the sudden abruptly end without any warning. 

Ending the poem Claude Mckay writes in lines 13 and 14 “ Like men we will face the murderous, cowardly pack, pressed to the wall, dying but fighting back!”, the sense of morbidity in these two lines is chilling. Humans are willing to sacrifice all they have for something they believe in, something they have worked so hard for. The two previous lines bring to mind a society with all the stress, judgment and the criticism we face on a daily basis as we try and fight back to be happy. The author transmits these ideas throughout the story, connecting points while using figurative language. 

The poem “If we must die​” written by Claude Mckay shows the themes of the acknowledgment of mortality and the overcoming of obstacles, he exhibits these all throughout the poem and connects with the reader. Using metaphors and symbolism you are able to interpret in your own way what he is trying to say by imagining the things people have to endure on a day-to- day basis. The connection between society and the racial time period was somewhat apparent as you kept reading, all humans want to do in life is be accepted and loved. In the poem it talks about death quite a lot and how people want to be remembered by the good times and to pass on knowing they lived their lives to the fullest. No one can avoid death, its bound to happen at some point so why not make the most of it while there is still time, live happily and freely on your own terms. 

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