Common Place Book #5

“Although she feeds me bread of bitterness,
And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth,
Stealing my breath of life, I will confess
I love this cultured hell that tests my youth”

-Claude McKay “America”

I should admit that I read this poem after a discussion with Professor Hoskins, but it does not change the fact that the opening lines to Claude McKay’s “America” a quite beautiful. The theme he is touching upon is a common theme throughout writings of the Harlem Renaissance. There was a feeling of love for America but a hatred of the daily oppression felt by African Americans. This message becomes even more profound when it is learned that Claude McKay is not even from America, he is originally from Jamaica. Claude McKay made a conscious choice to move too and remain in America. To Claude McKay America has a certain spirit that is inspiring. The opening four lines to “America” spend much of its time commenting on the way America beats down Claude McKay. This is not surprising for an African American poet to be writing about, especially considering the times he is living through. He is writing this poem only two years after riots killed hundreds of African Americans throughout the United States. Where the poem catches the readers attention is the end of the third line, when McKay writes, “I will confess.” This signifies to the reader that America is more than a savage tiger to McKay. Claude McKay then goes on to say that he, “loves this cultured hell.” It is a profound act, to love something that is in ways quite literally killing you. It is this line that draws the reader into the main idea of the poem, and does it beautifully if I might add. Although America is making his life hell, there is still something about it that is lovable and worth fighting for. If there was no point in saving America from itself, why would so many people try. This is what Claude McKay is trying to say through his poem. America, even with all of its terrible faults, still has something worth fighting for and saving.

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