Essay on If We Must Die by Claude McKay

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If We Must Die by Claude McKay

Clearly provocative and even chilling, “If We Must Die” by Claude McKay stirs deep and powerful emotions in any who reads it. A poem inspired by violent race riots, it serves as a motivating anthem representative of an entire culture. Graphic and full of vengeance this poem is demanding action, not telling a story. McKay utilizes imagery to its fullest extent creating an end result which any man or woman, black or white, who has ever felt the hard and hateful hand of oppression can relate to. Written in the form of a Shakespearean sonnet, one could hardly mistake it for anything so pleasant. Sonnets being traditionally used for beautiful, appealing topics, already there is contradiction between
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Dogs rarely die a shameful death, but instead fight to the finish. Using this dichotomy he further illustrates the severance of and between the hunter and the hunted. McKay emphasizes within the first three lines that the conflict at hand is not merely a struggle then, but a fierce hunt in which there is no mercy and only one survivor.
Again in the fifth line he requests that “If we must die, O let us nobly die,/ So that our precious blood may not be shed/ In vain” (5-7). He reasons that if there is to be bloodshed regardless, then the blood ought not to be shed without a fight. They should not lose their “precious blood” without any significance or effect, and not in an irreverent manner. If they succeed in avoidance of such vain, then McKay claims that “even the monsters we defy/ Shall be constrained to honor us through dead!” (7-8) McKay knows that upon a proud death, even those they fought will be compelled to acknowledge their bravery and pride. By referring to the enemy as “monsters,” McKay makes it increasingly difficult to not follow him. There is no pity or compromising with monsters and every man, woman, and child has his or her own image of a monster. Given this open description they are then free to envision the monster as they see and feel it. They can construct it based on their own fears. In line nine McKay recognizes the root of their problem as lack of unity. He is aware of the constant struggles
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