Article Review: “The Representation of the African American as Colonial Oppressed in Texts of the Soviet Interwar Years.”
t is a fact that love and hate are two of the most abundant emotions that any being will experience on this earth. On the surface, the two emotions are usually considered to be extremely different, hence characterized as polar opposites. However, a deeper analysis of the two emotions reveals some distinctive similarities. From a reader response criticism, the two emotions when well assessed can drive both a woman and a man into extremes, given that many have sacrificed themselves and also killed in the name of love (Clark 370). In the light of reading response criticism, this article will expound on how Claude Mckay as a recognized and celebrated poet in his poem dubbed “America,” offered the audience a first-hand glimpse into the impact the two emotions can invoke, in a bid to expound more on the fragmentation of the society and agitate for an audience worthy of heading the call and responding in a rebellious manner.
As a poem that is full of duality and truth, America was composed of three quatrains as well as a couplet all of which were crafted in an iambic pentameter that captured conventional English’s rhyming scheme. In an in-depth read throughout the poem, it was evident that McKay’s purpose was to capture the positive and negative feelings of America and its acceptable societal norms during the given period. Drawing from the insight gained, I do believe that the poem’s original release was estimated to be at a time when Americans celebrated a decade of carefree decadence, although to the south; the oppressive Jim Crow laws left most Jamaicans migrating into the region saddened by the real state of affairs. According to McKay, at the time, most of the “rights” awarded to Jamaicans left the feeling like second class citizens and were it not for courageous authors such as Claude the oppression that defined America’s growth would not have been captured.
The profound impact of McKay’s poem was captured by the sentiments he echoed within the script, such as “although she feeds me, the bread of bitterness…stealing my breath of life,” (1-3). In the extract, it was evident that the author despite expressing his dependency on the nation, he was disdained for it was gradually draining the life that he cherished within his spirit. In the subsequent verse, McKain did confess “I love this cultured hell that tests my mouth,” (3-4) an ideology that according to my interpretation captured the mixed feelings the author possessed for his nation, both positive and negative, as well as a call for action.
The second quatrain vividly expounded on the author’s stand towards racial hate, an aspect I believe that he openly criticized and refuted. In lines 5-6, McKain asserted, “her vigor flows like tides into my blood…giving me the strength to erect against her hate.” When interpreting the context, although the nation fueled the author’s energy, it, unfortunately, led to the manifestation of conflicting prose, one where the author through his strength retaliated against the injustice and bigotry that defined America, particularly with regards to the struggle for equality.
In the final quatrain, Mckay visibly relied on his freedom of speech as a platform to retaliate against the King in a rebellious attitude. According to the author, although nothing good was associated with rebellion, it was vital that he took the stand as a means to expound on the biased judicial sentence (Clark 375). Although the poem concluded on a melancholy note, his anticipations of a dark future did come to pass in the form of world war two, as well as civil unrest and the cold war.
McKay, Claude. Harlem Shadows: The Poems of Claude McKay. Harcourt, Brace, 1922.
Clark, Katerina. “The Representation of the African American as Colonial Oppressed in Texts of the Soviet Interwar Years.” The Russian Review 75.3 (2016): 368-385.