Claude McKay

Start Free Trial

Does the individual in "Pushcart Man," "When Dawn Comes to the City," and "I, Too" feel embedded or alienated from their environment?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

All three of these works have dark tones which contribute to the alienation of individuals in their environments.

In the story "Pushcart Man," a host of people are in close physical proximity to the Pushcart Man, yet they don't connect with him. Instead, their comments are tossed at each other, but there is not a feeling that anyone is listening to anyone else—and not to the Pushcart Man, either. The characters are fleeting, and it seems that the Pushcart Man is privy to these passing conversations as he tries to do his job, continually walking down the street. Thus, he hears people fighting, insulting each other, complaining of health ailments, and ridiculing the blind. Negative energy surrounds the Pushcart Man, and no one stops to purchase his produce. The Pushcart Man stands apart from every conversation he walks by, an outsider even in the midst of a sense of busy chaos.

This same sense of isolation is felt in "When Dawn Comes to the City." Although the narrator lives in the midst of New York's crowds, he describes his surroundings with a bleak outlook. The cars are tired and groan. The buildings are as "cold as stone." The people "sadly shuffle." This contrasts with a typical image of dawn, usually seen as bursting with life and opportunity. The juxtaposition of these contrasting images furthers the feeling of the narrator's dissatisfaction with his city life. Instead, he longs for something else—the calming sense of nature, out on an island and surrounded by the sea. The narrator's desire to escape from his city environment and the use of gloomy imagery contribute to the sense of the narrator's feelings of isolation in his city life.

The narrator in "I, Too" shares a sense of alienation, being forced to "eat in the kitchen" when society would rather that he not be seen. He takes strength in his isolation, convinced that one day society will be forced to recognize his true beauty. Still, there is a disconnect between this narrator and those around him.

All of these works feature themes of alienation and isolation, and images of a dark solitude contribute to themes of societal dissatisfaction.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial