Analysis

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 248

Home to Harlem, by Claude McKay, is a classic novel of the Harlem Renaissance. At the time it was published, it sparked criticism from black reformers who accused McKay of promoting negative black stereotypes. What McKay does, however, is glorify the black working class and the primitive values and traditions that define the negro experience. Home to Harlem tells the story of Jake Brown, who is the embodiment of black folk culture and primitive ideals. He remains true to his roots, despite the influence of industrial capitalism and efforts by the white middle class to denigrate black culture. He is ruled by instinct and acts on impulse. Jake works as a cook on the Pennsylvania railroad where he works alongside Ray, a Haitian waiter and his polar opposite. Ray is educated and progressive, intent on assimilating into urban capitalist culture.

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As McKay glorifies lower-class Harlem, he also portrays the loneliness and frustration of the people who reside in Harlem, as their culture is undervalued and misunderstood in this new environment. Ray describes Harlem as a pig pen, in fact, which highlights the prevailing attitude among white people of the African American world. McKay’s descriptions of Harlem portray nothing close to a pig pen, however; they portray a colorful and exotic place, a place vibrant with life and one that celebrates African American culture. Even its savagery is glorified, as McKay advocates the rise of a counterculture that opposes the white middle class and the values it embraces.

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