How would you compare and contrast Claude McKay's “America” and “The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarus? How do the poems speak to each other?

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Writing a 1,500-2,000 word paper requires creating a strong structure or outline and including metadiscourse to guide your reader through the paper. Your first step is to come up with a central thesis or theme which you state clearly in your introduction and support with textual evidence in your body paragraphs. 

For your thesis, you might start with pointing out that although both poems reflect the experience of immigrants in the United States, they differ strongly in attitude, with Lazarus emphasizing that the United States offers hope and opportunity to the poor and oppressed of other nations while McKay sees America as oppressive. You might approach the assignment by claiming the crucial differences in their attitudes were grounded in differences in the poets' cultural backgrounds, gender, and the time periods in which they lived.

The first body section of your paper might review the biographical backgrounds of the two writers. Emma Lazarus (July 22, 1849 – November 19, 1887) was of German Jewish descent and from a family which had lived and prospered in New York City for several generations. Claude McKay (September 15, 1889 – May 22, 1948) was a Jamaican-American who first arrived in the United States as a teenage student. While for Lazarus, the United States was a place of freedom for Jews, and one where she felt free to explore her Jewish heritage and be active in the Zionist movement, McKay's experience of the United States was one of discovering racism and oppression. 

Next, you might give an overview of the formal qualities of both works. Both are sonnets. Lazarus uses a Petrarchan form to amplify a contrast between the conquering triumphant image of ancient male statues and the warm welcome offered by the Statue of Liberty. She identifies the spirit of the statue as maternal and kind: 

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,

I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

For McKay, the spirit of America exemplifies the destructive power of the feminine:

. . . she feeds me bread of bitterness,

And sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth. . .

McKay uses the final couplet to look forward to the destruction of America.

The main sections of the body of your essay should address the ways the poems embody how differences in attitudes to race and gender affect views of the United States. 

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