If We Must Die Revised

Topics: Black people, Metaphor, Simile Pages: 5 (1502 words) Published: December 2, 2014
Zachary Bylykbashi
Mr. Ludden
English CCP
14 February 2014
Racial Pride over Oppression
The Harlem Renaissance was a tough time for the black community. They faced constant oppression and discrimination from the white community. Often times, the oppression was very violent. However, these dark times opened the door for black artists and writers to express their feelings through their art. One person famous for expressing his feelings during these times through his poems was Claude McKay. McKay believed that change was in order and the black community needed to do something in order to make that change. In the poem “If We Must Die,” Claude McKay calls for racial pride against white oppression through his use of similes, metaphors, contradictions, and biblical allusions.

McKay uses a simile to introduce his trope of blacks being hogs trapped in the city. He also establishes that being a hog is not something that he likes and that he wants to change. The simile is found in the first line of the poem when McKay states, “If we must die, let it not be like hogs.” Here, McKay is telling the reader that they cannot stand to be hogs anymore. He follows the simile to describe the hogs by saying they are “hunted and penned in an inglorious spot” (McKay 2). McKay says this to elaborate further on his simile and describe why the black community cannot die as hogs. He wants to motivate his readers to fight back and change from hogs to men. Arthur P. Davis had this to say regarding the hog simile, “these lines present the hog as a trope for unreflecting acceptance of the status quo” (Heglar). McKay uses the hog simile in the first line of his poem to inspire his readers to change the status quo of blacks being hogs. The simile clearly sets the tone for what McKay wants to accomplish through his poem, “If We Must Die.”

McKay also uses metaphors throughout the poem to describe the white oppressors that he and black community face. The metaphors describe the oppressors as mad and hungry dogs, monsters, and a cowardly pack. All of these descriptions send a negative vibe about who these oppressors are. For example, one of the metaphors goes, “even the monsters we defy” (McKay 7). This metaphor uses monsters to refer to the oppressors. Monsters are commonly looked at as ugly and mean so that is why McKay chose to use it to describe the people he is against. McKay’s purpose for using metaphors like that is to reveal the evil of the oppressors to the audience. By showing the ugliness of the oppressors through metaphors, McKay hopes to spur a revolt against the oppressors and put an end to the discrimination.

Despite their own individual purposes, the simile and metaphors also introduce the idea of contradictions causing conflict when put together. The hog simile describing the black community and the metaphors of the oppressors have contradicting interests. The blacks want freedom from oppression and race equality. The white oppressors want to remain in power of the blacks. These contradicting values create conflict. McKay uses the simile versus the metaphor to introduce the idea of contradictions causing conflict, as there are other major contradictions in the poem.

The first of these major contradictions are only a line apart from each other. McKay tells how the oppressors mock the black community but then says that the black community will die nobly. The words mock and nobly completely contradict each other. The two lines are written like this, “Making their mock at our accursed lot. If we must die, O let us nobly die” (McKay 4-5). McKay uses the contradiction between mock and nobly to inform the reader what they have now and what they could have if they fight back. McKay is saying that if the blacks do not fight the oppression, then they will have to continue to deal with the harassment of the white oppressors. However, if the black community fights back against the oppression, they will at least be able to die with dignity...
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