The poem America by Claude McKay is on its surface a poem combining what America should be and what this country stands for, with what it actually is, and the attitude it projects amongst the people. Mckay uses the form of poetry to express how he, as a Jamaican immigrant, feels about America. He characterizes the bittersweet relationship between striving for the American dream, and being denied that dream due to racism. While the America we are meant to see is a beautiful land of opportunity, McKay see’s as an ugly, flawed, system that crushes the hopes and dreams of the African-American people.
This poem is written from the perspective of an African-American from a foreign country, who has come to America for the promise of equality, only to find out that at this time equality for blacks does not exist. It is written for fellow black men, in an effort to make them understand that the American dream is not something to abandon hope in, but something to fight for. The struggle of putting up with the racist mistreatment is evident even in the first four lines:
“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.” (McKay)
These lines express quite graphically that the relationship between young black immigrants and America, is what would be referred to as a “love/hate” relationship.
Though dealing with the situation is difficult, the poem goes on to express that going through this ordeal has only strengthened the resolve of the African American community. Lines 4-9 of this poem speak to toughness and resolve of the African American community in the fight to gain equality. McKay even goes as far as to compare his situation, with that of a rebel, challenging a king. He talks about facing the battle to change the direction of the country, and how he is facing this challenge with no fear. The lines state:
“Her vigor flows like tides into my blood,
Giving me strength erect against her hate,
Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood.
Yet, as a rebel fronts a king in state,
I stand within her walls with not a shred
Of terror, malice, not a word of jeer.” (McKay)
To take these lines a little further, this author finds it intriguing that Mckay uses the history of America to voice his outrage at the injustice. To Americans, a rebel is a powerful figure, after all it was a group of rebels who defied the king of England in order to gain independence. Fighting against a tyrannical power to gain independence; at their very core, the ideals are the same. McKay uses Americas very history as a powerful eye opener against the injustice against the African American community, which is the same in context to the injustice America’s founding fathers faced when building this country.
Towards the end of the poem McKay unveils the “silver lining” so to speak. He begins talking about the future and how he hopes for a better...