Claude Mckay, If We

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Close reading on the poem “If We Must Die” by Claude McKay

If We Must Die
If we must die—let it not be like hogs
Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot,
While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs,
Making their mock at our accursed lot.

If we must die—oh, let us nobly die,
So that our precious blood may not be shed
In vain; then even the monsters we defy
Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!

Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe;
Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave,
And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow!
What though before us lies the open grave?

Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack,
Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

In his poem “If We Must Die” Claude McKay calls on his Kinsmen to “meet the common foe”. By using animal imagery describing the oppressed as well as the oppressor, he presents their relation as the one of poor hunted victims and unscrupulous hunters and thereby delivers reason and justification to fight back.

McKay uses the animal imagery on the oppressed to picture them as the hunted and thus points to the honour of the oppressed to make them get up and fight back. In the first quatrain of the sonnet the oppressed in their actual situation are presented as “hogs” being hunted and penned in an inglorious spot” (l 1&2). This unpleasant comparison of the oppressed with a lot of wild animals in an inglorious spot is used to cause a strong emotional reaction of the addressed. By showing how miserable they look in their present situation, he is appealing them by their honour, trying to get them off their chairs, start denying the situation and showing a reaction in the way of <No! I don’t want to...
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