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If We Must

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  • Pages: 4
  • Word count: 813
  • Category: Bravery

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The poem “If We Must Die,” written by Claude McKay is one of the poems that try to change how people think, encourage them to take action and give them bravery and confidence to face their foes. The author portrays the deep feelings felt during the conflict between blacks and whites in America in the early 20th century. It was during these years that riots related to race were experienced in the United States of America. The whites would attack the blacks and vice versa. By lowering the status of the enemies and uplifting the moral value of the right steps towards justice, McKay enhances the necessity of the constant fight against disparity. All people always have to stand up for themselves and fight for their beliefs because nobody else will do it for them. The author continually emphasizes that it is better to die than live a miserable life, as it lacks honor and sense. In this poem, McKay uses a lot of allegories and metaphors to contrast the honorable death and the enemy, which is common for many people.

The poem consists only of one stanza; however, this stanza can be described as short, but powerful. From the very beginning, McKay says “If we must die”, implicating that sooner or later everybody will die, that there is no way to avoid the death physically. These words are repeated in the fourth line again to emphasize on the inevitability of death, however, the particle “if” gives a hint that maybe there is a way how to stay in this world. The possible solution to this problem is given later in the form of honorable death so that a lot of people will remember the bravery and courage of the deceased. According to the author, “even the monsters we defy/Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!”, meaning that even if the person will not succeed in the fight and die, people will remember the person’s accomplishments and enemies will be obliged to respect the deceased heroes, as even one death can change all rules and customs in the world. McKay continually diminishes the image of the enemies, by comparing them to the “dogs”, gathered into the “murderous, cowardly pack”.

The author uses these allegories to show that the enemies are not that scary, but can be, if not fought back. There is no hope that these “dogs” will leave the people aside, as they are “mad and hungry” and “[make] their mock at our accursed lot”. By comparing the enemies to the dogs, McKay visualizes the enemies, making people see that the enemies exist and are not ephemeris. This strategy also allows generalizing the image of the enemy to universalize the poem and make it suitable for everybody. This way, the author speaks not only to people of African descent but all people in the world. The hope of victory is the powerful inspiration for further actions. In the poem, McKay shows that expectations are not useless, as the chance of winning exists all the time. The author states, “for their thousand blows [we will] deal one deathblow”, meaning that even such chance exists, it requires determination and patience. McKay also emphasizes that unity is one of the keys to the victory. Throughout the poem he uses the words “we” and “us” to speak to the reader, involving him in the situation, calling for actions. McKay also uses the phrase “Oh, Kinsmen!” which means “Oh, brothers!” to unite all people into a community that will act as a whole body. It is essential for everyone to contribute to the common goal, so together they can achieve victory. Claude McKay used the Shakespearean sonnet to enhance the melody and fluentness of the poem, arrange the syllables so that the poem will sound more like a march. This march encourages people for the further actions and enlightens their path. The verse gives hope that all the fights for the rights and beliefs are not useless, as the high chance for victory exists.

The sonnet’s language is in the iambic pentameter and this means that the couplet carries the message across. Imagery is utilized, in cases where tropes come in to play. Tropes bring about the helplessness and relentless of the people faced with oppression. The poem was a wake-up call for the blacks to stand up and fight for their rights. They were to do so valiantly and with courage since the oppression they faced was too much to bear. The riots had wrought havoc in the country and were characterized by savage acts, massacres, tragedy and unjustifiable deaths of blacks. The poem became an inspiration to black so that they could resist the attacks. By writing this poem, McKay believes that together people will be able to outcome their foes, they just need the encouragement. 

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