Langston Hughes

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After reading Claude McKay's poem "If We Must Die," and the Langston Hughes poem "I, Too, Sing America," what do you believe are their similarities and differences? If We Must Die   by Claude McKay...

After reading Claude McKay's poem "If We Must Die," and the Langston Hughes poem "I, Too, Sing America," what do you believe are their similarities and differences?

If We Must Die   by Claude McKay
If we must die—let it not be like hogs Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot, While round us bark the mad and hungry dogs, Making their mock at our accursed lot. If we must die—oh, let us nobly die, So that our precious blood may not be shed In vain; then even the monsters we defy Shall be constrained to honor us though dead! Oh, Kinsmen! We must meet the common foe; Though far outnumbered, let us show us brave, And for their thousand blows deal one deathblow! What though before us lies the open grave? Like men we'll face the murderous, cowardly pack, Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!

 

I, Too, Sing America   by Langston Hughes
I, too, sing America. I am the darker brother. They send me to eat in the kitchen When company comes, But I laugh, And eat well, And grow strong. Tomorrow, I'll be at the table When company comes. Nobody'll dare Say to me, "Eat in the kitchen," Then. Besides, They'll see how beautiful I am And be ashamed-- I, too, am America.

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Claude McKay and Langston Hughes were contemporaries, and, accordingly, their poems represent similar concerns. Both men were black and living in the United States in the 1920s. However, while Langston himself was an American, McKay was not. He arrived in the US as an adult, and was horrified by the way black people were treated there. This can be detected in the language of his poem: it is a war-cry to his "kinsmen," black people untrammeled by nationality, to rise up and "defy" the "monsters" who repress them. In McKay's poem, the "common foe" are depicted as mindless hunters, barking dogs who do not realize that the "accursed" people they round up to mistreat are "like men" to their "murderous" and animalistic cowardice. McKay calls upon his fellow black people to fight back, even if it means death: he means to escape this extreme situation in which he finds himself, at all costs.

By contrast, Hughes's poem is wistful and resigned, his quiet sadness at his situation reflecting the...

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