English Literature
America Claude Mckay

America Claude Mckay

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The Dichotomous Experience of Black Immigrants in Claude McKay's 'America' (1921)

Claude McKay's poem 'America' (1921) intricately captures the conflicting emotions of being a black immigrant in the United States. The poem personifies America, portraying it as a captivating yet brutal place, reflecting the narrator's complex perception of the country.

Background of the Poet

Claude McKay, a Jamaican poet and prominent figure in the Harlem Renaissance, wrote 'America' in 1921. Born in 1889 to parents of Ashanti and Malagasy descent, McKay was deeply influenced by his diverse heritage. The Harlem Renaissance, a cultural movement in the late 1910s to late 1930s, celebrated and redefined African American identity through literature and art.

In 1912, McKay published his first book of poetry, 'Songs of Jamaica', written in the Jamaican dialect. He later attended the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama and Kansas State University, continuously writing and publishing poetry that portrayed his unique experiences as a black man.

An Analysis of 'America' by Claude McKay

Now that we are familiar with McKay's background, let's delve into his poem 'America' and explore its structure, linguistic features, and underlying themes.

Structure and Title

The title 'America' directly refers to the nation, emphasizing its significance in the poem. By using the noun 'America' alone, without any adjectives, McKay maintains a neutral tone, allowing readers to form their own interpretations of the narrator's conflicting perception of the country.

'America' follows the structure of a Shakespearean sonnet, a poetic form traditionally associated with love and romance. This choice creates a consistent structure and a contemplative tone. Divided into an octave and a sestet, the poem consists of fourteen lines and follows an ABABCDCDEFEFGG rhyme scheme. The eighth line serves as a turning point in the poem.

McKay's use of enjambment and alliteration affects the rhythm and tone of the poem, further highlighting its structure and message. Despite the conflicting content and form, they add depth and complexity to the piece.

The Power of Literary Devices

McKay expertly employs literary devices such as personification, metaphors, and oxymorons to effectively convey the narrator's emotions and experiences. These devices, along with enjambment and alliteration, contribute to the powerful tone and impactful message of the poem.

'America' by Claude McKay is a poignant portrayal of the multifaceted experiences of black immigrants in the United States. Through his mastery of language and literary devices, McKay captures the beauty, cruelty, and contradictions of the country, making 'America' a timeless piece of literature that continues to resonate with readers today.

The Significance of Literary Devices in Claude McKay's 'America'

In his poem 'America', Claude McKay utilizes various literary devices to convey his perception of the nation. These devices, coupled with the poem's structure, contribute to its vivid imagery and evocative tone.

Personification and oxymoron are used to give America human qualities, highlighting the issues associated with its people rather than the physical land. These devices, along with enjambment and alliteration, create a meditative tone as the narrator reflects on the nation's contradictory nature.

Enjambment and Alliteration

The use of enjambment and alliteration in 'America' is sparing but impactful. The enjambment breaks the traditional structure of a sonnet, emphasizing the narrator's conflicting emotions. Alliteration adds a rhythmic quality to the poem, further emphasizing the internal struggle of the narrator.

Exploring the Themes and Literary Devices in Claude McKay's 'America'

Claude McKay's poem 'America' utilizes various literary devices and themes to convey the narrator's conflicted perception of the nation. Through enjambment, alliteration, personification, and oxymoron, the poet creates a controlled rhythm and tone, encapsulating the complex and conflicting emotions towards America.


One of the most prominent literary devices in 'America' is alliteration, where the repetition of the 'b' sound in "bread of bitterness" contributes to the harsh and blunt tone. This alliteration emphasizes the word 'bitterness' and highlights the narrator's negative feelings towards America.


The personification of America throughout the poem serves as a powerful literary device to illustrate the issues associated with its people. The use of 'her' to refer to the nation further emphasizes the conflicting views of the narrator towards it. The line "And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth" showcases America as a symbol of power and domination, stealing the narrator's breath of life.


'America' also utilizes oxymoron to demonstrate the narrator's conflicting stance on the nation. The contrast between 'cultured' and 'hell' in "I love this cultured hell that tests my youth" highlights the duality of America, acknowledging its positive aspects but also its dark side.

Themes in 'America'

The title of the poem itself suggests that 'America' explores the narrator's perception of the nation. The central theme of conflict is closely intertwined with the underlying theme of history, as showcased through various literary devices.


The theme of conflict is evident both within America and within the narrator's emotions towards it. The enjambment in "Stealing my breath of life, I will confess / I love this cultured hell that tests my youth" creates a pause, emphasizing the struggle of the narrator to reconcile their love and resentment towards the nation.


Through the allusion of Percy Shelley's sonnet 'Ozymandias', the theme of history is woven into the poem. This allusion suggests that America's fate may be the same as that of the ancient ruler Ozymandias, symbolizing the inevitable decline of nations. The imagery of "priceless treasures sinking" further highlights the impact of America's ongoing issues with racism and xenophobia, making a poignant commentary on the consequences of unequal societies throughout history.

In conclusion, Claude McKay's 'America' is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that utilizes various literary devices and themes to depict the narrator's conflicting views towards the nation. Through enjambment, alliteration, personification, and oxymoron, the poet creates a controlled rhythm and tone, showcasing the complex and troubled relationship with America. The inclusion of various themes, such as conflict and history, further add depth to the poem and cement its place as a commentary on society and the consequences of its actions.

Understanding Claude McKay's Poem 'America': Key Takeaways

Claude McKay's 1921 sonnet 'America' delves into the complex experience of being a black immigrant in the United States. Through the use of personification and a traditional sonnet form, McKay highlights America's impact on the narrator's life.

Personifying America as a woman throughout the poem adds a human element and potentially symbolizes The Statue of Liberty. The ABABABABABABCC rhyme scheme and iambic pentameter also add structure to the conflicting themes of grandeur and cruelty.

The Significance of 'America' by Claude McKay

McKay's 'America' explores the duality of the nation, with its "might and granite wonders" alongside its ability to "steal the narrator's breath of life". This dichotomy is conveyed through figurative language, such as personification and metaphor.

The Voice and Date of Publication of 'America'

The speaker in 'America' is implied to be Claude McKay, as he himself experienced the challenges of being a black immigrant in America. The poem was first published in 1921.

Figurative Language in McKay's 'America'

Through the use of personification and metaphor, McKay paints a vivid picture of America's nature and its impact on the narrator. The personification of America as a powerful force and the metaphor of a "cultured hell" add depth and emotion to the poem's themes.

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