If We Must Die Essay

1458 WordsOct 1, 20136 Pages
Part 1. Explication “If We Must Die” by Claude McKay “If We Must Die” was written almost a century ago, and it wouldn’t be unnecessary to refer to the history of that time for better understanding because the author leaves us guessing about the past events. Before digging into the background, it’s good to mention that this poem makes an impression of a hero, a Greek hero - brave strong man who fought the enemy for truth and honor. Jamaican-American writer and poet Claude McKay created “If We Must Die” during the “Red Summer” of 1919, a period of intense racial violence against black people in the American society. McKay has immigrated to the US just few years before that, and was shocked by the racism, which gave him an inspiration for new poems. Almost thirty years it took him to become a citizen, difficult to imagine nowadays such a long struggling life span of being discriminated, having no right or voice. McKay’s poem “If We Must Die” became a sound of his “voice” from that battle. From the first line, we don’t know what is going on, but can think of some event that will result death. The beginning of the poem is the speech of one leader, confidently bringing his listeners in front of the fact, that there will be a battle, and “If we must die—let it not be like hogs” (1). Hogs are castrated male pigs. Pigs are often used as a symbol of comparison among people, just because they are known as the “dirtiest” animals. Additionally, castrated pigs play a symbol of powerless. This way the speaker insists his allies to die like humans, like men. In the next three lines we understand why the speaker and his allies have fight - they have no choice. “Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot” (2) refers to the place where pigs are kept behind the fence - a filthy, smelly “cage”. In connection with the first line, we can see that there was an influence of others, who

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