Claude McKay

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What is a close analysis of "The Lynching" by Claude McKay? Pay attention to the structure, repetitions, language, and style of the poem. Is there anything unusual or strange about this poem? How is it structured? Pay special attention to the language, including the figurative language and specific wording of the passage, including its figures of speech and sound. Are there any important images, metaphors or conceits? What are the important words? What are the relationships between them? Is there some relationship between the form and content of the poem? Look for vertical relationships and not just linear ones.

"The Lynching" is an Italian sonnet divided into two parts: the octave and the sestet. The octave presents the body of a black man who has been lynched; he has been hanged and burned, though his soul ascends to heaven. The sestet presents the response of the white community to this crime; they are either apathetic or joyful. The children are described as dancing "in fiendish glee" around the body, and they are associated with the Devil and hell.

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This poem is actually an Italian sonnet, which means that it consists of an octave (a group of eight lines) followed by a sestet (a group of six lines). Often, the octave in an Italian sonnet will present a problem, question, or situation, and the sestet will present an answer, explanation, or resolution of some kind. In "The Lynching," the octave describes the actual lynching of a black person. He has, evidently, been hanged as well as burned. The speaker says that his spirit has returned to God, "His father," albeit in a most painful way. The narrator says that a star burned "pitifully" over the body, the "swinging char," all night long. The sestet describes the next morning and how people come to see the "ghastly body." Blue-eyed (presumably white) women crowd around, but none appear to feel any sorrow. Little boys who might someday become lynchers themselves dance around the body with joy.

The contrast between the language of "high heaven" to where the lynched man's soul has gone, and the divine "bosom" to which he was "bidden," contrasts sharply with the language used to describe what life is like on earth. Stars burn "pitifully" over the man's wrecked body—which is "ghastly" and "char[red]." Perhaps the star is a symbol for the promise life seems to hold. That promise is empty for black people because of the oppression and violence to which they are subjected. The white women's eyes are "steely blue" and seem devoid of human feeling, and the little white boys dance in "fiendish glee," like little devils. Black people are associated with heaven, whereas white people are associated with hell.

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