Themes and Meanings
Home to Harlem is essentially a story without a plot. There is no story line in the strict sense; Felice is lost for a time and then found by chance. Everything else in the novel is introduced to let readers know what life is like in Harlem, and this the book does with noteworthy verisimilitude. The story is not linear, because life in the Black Belt is not shown to proceed in a logical, cause-and-effect fashion; rather, it is depicted as serendipitous, often unfair, and certainly unpredictable and dangerous. Ray’s participation in the life of Jake is short-lived and fundamentally ineffective. In this, McKay seems to suggest that there is no possibility of amelioration from the outside and from would-be saviors who are transient and not from within the social structure.
On the other hand, Jake, who is part of Harlem and who has become accustomed to its harshness and brutality, can see the possibility of finding love, affection, and even self-satisfaction and self-improvement by leaving it all behind. Prostitution, he seems to suggest, is nothing to hold against a woman if society has forced her into it for survival.
McKay was a longtime resident of Harlem after he migrated from Jamaica (which he saw as Edenic), and he thought of Harlem as dehumanizing in the extreme. His attitude is reflected in Ray’s comment that if he married Agatha he soon “would become one of the contented hogs in the pigpen of Harlem, getting ready to litter little black piggies.” It is this image that McKay presents throughout the novel: Where people are overcrowded and treated like animals, they...
(The entire section is 660 words.)