What is the significance of the title "The Tropics of New York" by McKay?

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belarafon eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"The Tropics of New York" is a poem by Claude McKay written in 1922. It concerns his memories of his time in Jamaica, a much more temperate climate with a lot of color, compared to living in New York where colors are muted and plant life is scarce. The title refers explicitly to the notion that what is seen as normal in the Tropics is unusual, even "prized" in New York; instead of the climate and environment reflecting the tropics, in New York the only place that shows these vivid colors and variety of fruits is the market, where they are imported and sold as delicacies. The fruits:

Sat in the window, bringing memories
of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,
And dewy dawns, and mystical skies
In benediction over nun-like hills.
(McKay, "The Tropics of New York," poets.org)

It is the memories and longing for the tropics that drives the poem, as well as the stark differences between the tropics and Northeast America. The title is a representation of McKay's personal feelings as well as a slight rebuke to the people of New York who do not understand these feelings. McKay also shows, implicitly, that his own value in New York is less than these representations of the "tropics" of which he is a far more important product; the fruits are transient, but valued, while McKay is a working member of society, but ignored.