Claude McKay, a Jamaican born man, arrived in the United States on September 12, 1912. He enrolled in Tuskegee Institute, Alabama upon his arrival to the United States. He was a student of English-style poetry written by Pope and Milton. McKay soon realized that college wasn’t for him. He decided to relocate to New York City. He worked odd jobs and was exposed to the racism in the United States. This experience was what inspired his writing. He also returned to Jamaican dialect to write. McKay’s writings started to get the attention they deserved. He used this platform to voice his opinion about the racial injustices inflicted upon African Americans living in the United States. He was soon one of the most well-known Harlem Renaissance poets. Claude McKay’s poem America seems to be a combination of what America should and stands for and what the poem reflects among its people.
The sonnet format is what Claude McKay used to write America. This means that the fourteen-line poem follows a pattern: ababcdcd efefgg. McKay wrote America to be a sonnet. It was his preferred structure for expressing his emotions. He didn’t see the sonnet’s rigid structure as a problem, but the restriction was what could allow him to express his feelings. McKay believed that it was best to express his strong feelings by creating a structure that allowed him to direct his writing. McKay believed that sonnets could be more memorable because they are musical. Both the meaning and form this poem share a common thread. McKay is torn between his love for America and his hatred. McKay is trying to convey how he feels about America’s treatment of his people and him. He then talks about what he hopes America will become. America is his home, and he hopes for the best. Claude McKay used their platform to raise awareness about American injustice because it was not common for African Americans to speak out. McKay says in the poem “And sinks into her throat her tiger’s teeth” (Claude line 2) that he witnessed America’s attempts to silence African Americans. The literal meaning of this poem is that someone is put to the test and then they are able to admire their struggles and learn from them. This poem also talks about how hard this person’s lives are and the courage it takes to endure the hardships. This poem is profoundly enhanced by McKay’s dictation and word choice. McKay uses metaphors to communicate the emotions of his poem. McKay uses the phrase to refer to America as a female throughout his poem. In this sense, McKay refers to America as a woman in the poem. McKay opens the poem by declaring,
“Although she gives me bitter bread,
And her tiger tooth sinks into me throat.
My breath of life is my testimony.
“I love this cultured hell that tests me as a youngster.” (Claude, lines 1-4).
This demonstrates McKay’s bitterness for the country. America is clearly not a place to grow. “Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Give me the strength to resist her hatred
Her vastness sweeps me as a flood.” (Claude 5-8).
This is McKay’s positive attitude towards America. This simile gives the impression of McKay’s determination to resist injustice. I will not let her down.
Terror, malice, and not a single word of jeer. I stare in darkness at the days that lie ahead.
“And she will and granite wonders are there” (Claude, lines 9-12).
This marks the beginning of McKay’s shift to McKay’s story. This is the beginning of a discussion. He explained to the reader how America constantly builds him up, while simultaneously tearing him apart. And, in addition, he acknowledges America’s brilliance. “Under the touch Time’s unerring eye, Like precious treasures sinking into the sand.” (Claude’s lines 13-14). These lines allude to Shelby’s Ozymandias. They also point out that America’s beauty can be lost in time. The beauty of nature, for example, will always be there even if humans don’t appreciate it. McKay’s balance shows that he is open to seeing this from a different perspective. McKay sends him his poem America in support of African Americans. McKay arrived in the United States from Jamaica, 1912 with many dreams and hopes. This was the beginning of his love for American poetry and American dream. He was soon disappointed by America’s sad reality. He was inspired to use the pulpit as a platform to voice his disapproval of the racial prejudices that were common in America. This was a great thing for the African American community. They didn’t have a voice and so more support is crucial. McKay feels saddened, but hopeful that the country can improve.