As in almost all of his fiction, Claude McKay offers in Home to Harlem characters who represent the polarities that he attempted to bridge: the intellectual and the emotional, the potent and the impotent, the hardworking and the indolent, the caring and the carefree, the permanent and the transient. (All these were ultimately fused in Bita Plant, the protagonist of McKay’s 1933 novel Banana Bottom. )
Jake, having been separated from black women for two years while in Europe, is keen to resume his physical contact with them upon his return to Harlem; however, he is not one of the unthinking, faceless men of the crowd. Rather, he is a hardworking man with leadership qualities (as demonstrated by his leading a longshoremen’s team), with a keen sense of duty (as he shows by enlisting in the Army), with a quick perception of being deceived (as he shows when he is made to lug lumber instead of being given front-line combat duty), with a sense of self-esteem (he is unwilling to be kept as a sweetman), and with a desire to improve his lot within the existing social and political system. That is, he is generally conservative yet ambitious; he is not a reactionary and not a progressive. He bonds well and readily with other African Americans, yet he is not dependent; he listens and learns and has confidence in being able to cope and to endure. In many ways, he is a most admirable character: He is resilient and resourceful, adaptable and yet not flaccid.
Ray, on the other hand, is a lonely adventurer, and his principal trait is his inability to come to terms with the existing social situation. He is an intellectual, a reader (while stopping over in Pittsburgh, he buys and reads four...
(The entire section is 702 words.)