If We Must Die

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Claude McKay's poem, If We Must Die, is a poem about racial inequality and persecution with a very angry tone. The words of this poem exude with the poet's rage against the injustices done to his race. His hatred of the inequality is evident in his harsh descriptions of his persecutors. However, the reader can also feel the emotions of triumph because "If We Must Die" is also a poem of strength, rally and hope for the African American race.

In the opening line, McKay urges his people not to die like hogs. He chooses hogs because hogs are slaughtered just as he feels his people are being unjustly slaughtered. He has very malicious descriptions for his persecutors and creates a picture of a rabid dog gone crazy looking for blood. He uses the simile mad and hungry dogs for his persecutors.

The poet begs his people to die nobly, with dignity, with their head high and not to give in to the "monsters". Again, McKay creates a nightmarish picture exposing the wickedness of the unjust. He refers to his people's blood as precious, giving them worth, something their persecutors fail to see. The poet tells his people that dying with dignity will force their persecutors to honor them. "Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!" The poet states that though they are outnumbered they must be brave and stand firm to their persecutions that will in turn kill their foes in spirit. He reminds them that they really have no other choice and their punishment could be no worse than they are already receiving. "What though before us lies the open grave?" McKay turns the table by calling his people the true men and the persecutors the "murderous, cowardly pack". His people will fight even when they know they are defeated. "Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!" McKay's poem reveals a fighting spirit and a will to live although the odds were stacked against him.
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