Analysis of If We Must Die Poem by Claude McKay

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is a poem written during the Harlem Renaissance period, which took place in New York following the abolishment of slave trade. It was a period marked by the acquisition of a new identity for the black Negro. It was during this period intended to uplift the race by challenging stereotypes and racism that was prevailing through music, art and literature( Baym, Nina, and Levine, 2011) This essay presents an in-depth analysis of the poem.

Bias-motivated violence. The author addresses an audience that is allegedly under attack and whose death is imminent. However, he urges them not to die lying low but fight back for them to be honored even in death. Racial prejudice can be summed up as the main reason why the author and his allies are being attacked and killed. Racial prejudice is something that I have personally experienced in the Ukrainian society. I have experienced attacks motivated by racial prejudice against Jewish and Rabbis students in Ukraine as well as the destruction of cultural centers and synagogues belonging to these races. Over the recent years, many cities in Ukraine have recorded an increase in prejudice motivated crimes which have been violent in most cases. Students have not been the only victims of this bias-motivated violence; other victims have included refugees, expatriate employees, asylum seekers, the minorities and diplomats. 

The poem presents a situation similar to what I have experienced. Having come from an extremely poor family, I really went through hell in my childhood. My parents were so poor that even other poor families in our neighborhood mocked us and even used us to illustrate what poverty was. From lack of even the most basic needs; things went from better to worse. My parents who were casual laborers were overworked and poorly paid or even being denied their meager earnings. The little we had was also taken away leaving us for the dead and finally, we found ourselves in the streets. Just like the persona in the poem, I had to fight to get some honor for my family; I had to prove those who wanted us dead wrong by proving them that poverty was not an inability. Although I knew that I was fighting a losing battle, could not watch my family continue to be humiliated anymore just because we were poor. I had to fight back.

Elements of poem. There are many elements of poetry that can be drawn from this poem and which have been used by the author to communicate to his readers. The most dominant theme in the poem is death. The speaker and his group seem to be staring at death and what is important I how he must face the death not when. He wants to die honorably with his people. We also get the impression of a raging war for which the speaker is preparing his people. They must show that they are brave even if they have no chance of becoming victors. He also uses the symbol of dog to represent their enemies (Claude,2016).The attitude of can be described as bitter based on how inhumanely he describes their enemies through words such as dogs


In conclusion, the above analysis shows how bias-motivated violence mostly against American of African descent was of great concern during the Harlem Renaissance period. It also analyzes my personal experiences which are similar to those encountered by the speaker and his people as well as the main elements of poem in If We Must Die by Claude McKay.




Baym, Nina, and Robert S. Levine, eds. The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Eighth International Student Edition. WW Norton & Company, 2011.

McKay, Claude. "If We Must Die.” 1919."Complete Poems: Claude McKay

(2016): 177-78.

December 12, 2023



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