If We Must Die



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If We Must Die


IF we must die, let it not be like hogs

Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,

While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,

Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die, O let us nobly die,

So that our precious blood may not be shed

In vain; then even the monsters we defy

Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

O kinsmen! we must meet the common foe!

Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,

And for their thousand blows deal one death-blow!

What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,

Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!


Claude McKay


SIFT—To Examine and Sort Carefully “If We Must Die,” Claude McKay


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Symbol:

  • “hungry dogs,” “monsters,” “cowardly pack”: all different names referring to the same symbol. The “dogs” symbolize brutal and unjust oppressors of a minority group.



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Images:

  • Sight: “Hunted and penned” visualization of helpless victims

  • Sight and Sound: “round us bark the mad and hungry dogs” fierce animal noises and aggressive manners

  • Sight: “let us nobly die, /So that our precious blood may not be shed” bleeding and suffering

  • Sight and Touch: “for their thousand blows deal one death-blow” beatings leading to fatality

  • Sight: “before us lies the open grave” death

  • Sight: “Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back” inner strength to survive


Figures of Speech:

  • Simile: “IF we must die, let it not be like hogs” not wanting to be butchered like an animal

  • Metaphor: “round us bark the mad and hungry dogs” comparing other humans to vicious animals

  • Metaphor: “Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack” comparing other humans to cowardly animals who do not give a fair fight


Conclusions/Findings




Tone:

  • Pride/Dignity: “Though far outnumbered let us show us brave,” “Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack, /Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!” The author encourages others to have self-respect and pride and partake in active resistance.

Claude McKay relies on animal imagery that largely appeals to sight as well as an extended metaphor comparing oppressors to monsters and dogs in his poem “If We Must Die.” McKay encourages others to stay strong, and stand up for their rights with honor and self-respect when faced with oppression.





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