Ap literature 20 November 2014

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Katie Schnautz

Ms. Renner

AP Literature

20 November 2014

Harlem Renaissance Literary Analysis

Claude McKay, an author, has works that show how the Harlem Renaissance affected literature at the time period. Claude McKay wrote about the life of the black masses, and the cultural heritage of people of color (Claude). McKay also led the way for many other African American writers. In many of his poems, he showed the influence of the Harlem Renaissance through the themes of the poems. Claude McKay, an author during the Harlem Renaissance, wrote many poems, including “If We Must Die” and “Harlem Shadows”, showed the influences on literature during that time period.

Claude McKay was a major literary figure during the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s. His poetry focused on several ideas that the Harlem Renaissance was based on. Some of these ideas were spiritual freedom, humanitarian social and political views, and awakening the masses to the devastating effects of racism in a white-dominated society (Claude). McKay went to Harlem where he joined the Negro Renaissance writers’ revolt against white cultural standards by seeking to write works reflecting the life of the black masses (Claude). He also wrote about the racial violence in the United States. He was also awarded a gold medal by the Jamaican Institute of Arts and Sciences in 1912, Harmon Foundation Award for distinguished literary achievement, NAACP, 1929, for Harlem Shadows and Home to Harlem, and the James Weldon Johnson Literary Guild Award in 1937 (Claude). McKay ked the war for the emergence of a modern African American literary tradition that includes writers such as Langston Hughes, Richard Wright, Ralph Ellison, and James Baldwin (Claude).

One of Claude McKay’s poems, “If We Must Die”, shows how the Harlem Renaissance affected his literature. This poem was written in response to the violence against African Americans in the United States. I believe that he wants to have respect for African Americans. “If we must die let it not be like hogs/Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,/While round us bark mad dogs,/Making their mock at our accursed lot.”(McKay, Claude “If”). I think in those lines he wants them to be respected when they die. It is not equality that McKay seeks in his poem, but a measure of respect for having fought one’s oppressors. (Explanation). “If We Must Die” was featured in several black newspapers across the country, and McKay earned recognition as one of the most talented African American writers (Claude). In time, this poem would begin the Harlem Renaissance that ultimately led to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s (Explanation).

Another poem, “Harlem Shadows”, is an example of how Claude McKay’s literature was effected by the time period. In this poem, McKay calls attention to the fallen “Harlem Negro”. I believe this poem shows how McKay felt about African Americans in that time period, and how they were forced to do shameful things because they did not have many opportunities. “Ah, stern harsh world, that in wretched way/Of poverty, dishonor and disgrace/Has pushed the timid little feet of clay/The sacred brown feet of my fallen race!/Ah, heart of me, the weary, weary feet/In Harlem wandering from street to street.” (McKay, Claude “Harlem”). This shows that his race is fallen, and has been forced to do shameful things. This poem also shows the themes of the time period. Vivid, specific, and also has large as the range of human fear, loss, and sympathy, the poem embodies the emotional and ultimately moral themes of the time (Hoagwood).

Claude McKay was an influential writer during the Harlem Renaissance, and wrote many poems, including “If We Must Die” and “Harlem Shadows”, which showed the influences on literature during that time period. Both of these poems showed themes of the time period such as the life of the black masses, and the cultural heritage of people of color. McKay also led the way for other African American writers. His poems had a major impact on the Harlem Renaissance, and may have led to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s.

Works Cited

"Claude McKay." Contemporary Black Biography. Vol. 6. Detroit: Gale, 1994. Biography in Context. Web. 4 Nov. 2014

"Explanation of: 'If We Must Die' by Claude McKay." LitFinder Contemporary Collection. Detroit: Gale, 2000. LitFinder. Web. 4 Nov. 2014. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CLTF0000000666CE&v=2.1&u=inspire&it

Hoagwood, Terence. "Claude Mckay's HARLEM SHADOWS." Explicator 68.1 (2009): 51-54. Academic Search Premier. Web. 5 Nov. 2014.

McKay, Claude. "Harlem Shadows." Caribbean Voices, Combined ed. Ed. John Figueroa. Robert B. Luce, 1971. 127. LitFinder. Web. 5 Nov. 2014. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CLTF0000449127WK&v=2.1&u=inspire&it=r&p=LITF&sw=w&asid=385bbb499d9083642a5169f3f0b72f8a

McKay, Claude. "If We Must Die." American Negro Poetry. Ed. Arna Bontemps. Hill & Wang, 1963. 31. LitFinder. Web. 4 Nov. 2014. http://go.galegroup.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CLTF0000449132WK&v=2.1&u=inspire&it=r&p=LITF&sw=w&asid=1c8e0c899cfb9348c86264de7e9a31e5\

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