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Claude Mc Kay's Harlem Shadows Essay

1379 words - 6 pages

Claude McKay's "Harlem Shadows"

During the Harlem Renaissance, the black body was considered exotic and the "flavor" of the week. Society had an obsession towards black women, in general, blackness. However, the white race wanted to listen to their music, mingle with the women, and enjoy the other finer luxuries that the black society could afford. Even the art was captured by this idea of the exotic and contentment in being "black." The masquerade began as members of the white race tried to pass as black and during that experience gain some satisfaction from their own lost and confused existence.

     Claude McKay was unique in style and tone, yet still followed the other artists by topic. The exotic in Claude McKay's "Harlem Shadows" is apparent. McKay is developing the exotic throughout the text and saying that black exoticism is the only way that Africans can survive in America. McKay wants the African American to embrace their bodies, but there is an element of pity to the work. He feels that embracing the exotic in your own body is the way that the black person can become African American. Ignoring the culture fails to guide black Americans to discovering his or her identity. As a Harlem Renaissance writer, Claude McKay tried to guide African Americans to accept the African culture along with the exotic characteristics involved in it.

     In "Harlem Shadows", McKay tries to express how a black woman survives everyday life in America. He writes, "I see the shapes of girls who pass/ to bend and barter at desires call." McKay identifies with the black desires that these women can not avoid. It is in their nature to turn and exchange their bodies. However, the most important reference McKay makes is the use of the word barter. The dictionary meaning of bartering is to exchange services without the exchange of money. These girls are not receiving money for each desire they fulfill. For the girls to continue satisfying desires without receiving anything in return, McKay implies they are enjoying the act. Also, that these woman need to complete these desires to survive. Another prominent aspect of the line is that McKay uses the term girls instead of women. Thus proving that even from an immature age, black females are not able to suppress their exotic nature and desires. Therefore, McKay is encouraging women to embrace their own African roots, natural sexual desires included.

     Another notion to consider is that society is going to overlook that these acts of fulfillment are even occurring. Society expects this behavior from the black culture. This is made perceptible when McKay says, "In Negro Harlem when the night lets fall/ Its veil." The veil goes back to the idea that eyes are covered. Therefore, society's eyes are covered at night when all of the exotic behavior arises. This shows an unsympathetic side towards society and the role of the black woman. McKay further displays this towards the end of the poem by saying, "Ah,...

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