The following paper focuses on the two poets of the Harlem Renaissance – Claude McKay and James Weldon Johnson. Their role and importance within the literary movement is identified, and the major themes of their poems, If We Must Die and The Prodigal Son are highlighted.
Harlem Renaissance Poets
The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned unofficially form 1919 to the mid 1930’s. The “Negro Movement” as it was then called, heralded the zenith of modern African literature. Though it was centered around the Harlem, New York, many Afro-Caribbean writers were also inspired by this movement to produce epic pieces of literature. In this paper we concentrate on the great poetry that ebbed and flowed during this movement and most particularly on two poets of the period: Claude McKay and James Weldon Johnson. One of the pioneers of the Harlem Renaissance Movement was the poet Claude McKay. McKay was born in Jamaica and spent much of his early life there. His parents were prosperous farmers with landed property and McKay lived a life of relative ease. It was only upon mving to the States in 1912; McKay encountered intense public discrimination against blacks. The segregation that was so much a part of the civil milieu put Claude McKay off the “machine-like existence” that he transferred to Kansas State University. During his life here he was inspired to produce some of the seminal works typifying the Harlem Renaissance. McKay’s literary heritage spanned a generation where he produced stories of the peace of peasant life in Jamaica, the travails of the honest black worker in America and a rage against the American white authorities. Perhaps most known are, McKay’s reflection on the so-called “double consciousness” of blacks which helped them survive in a society where racism was so embedded in the civil consciousness. McKay’s seminal works express his contempt for the rampant racism and bias blacks faced in society. Arthur D. Drayton, in his...
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Claude McKay. Biography. (n. d.). Poetry Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/claude-mckay
Sayre, H. M. (2011). Humanities Culture, Continuity and Change. Vol. 2. Boston: Pearson College Div., 2011
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