Claude McKay’s poem, America, composed of three quatrains and a rhyming couplet, present the dichotomy of emotion towards America. The octave portrays his critical and hateful view towards America where as the latter six lines emits a sense of optimism.
The poem is an example of an English rhyme scheme and the first eight lines underline the speaker’s deep-seated aversion to America. McKay personifies America in the third line, “stealing my breath of life.” The personification attributes America a human-like characteristic of physically “taking away,” as well as showing the speaker’s rooted disgust of the country. The poet then juxtaposes “flood” and “tide.” This structure is noteworthy because the visual imagery further amplifies the emotion of hate. Compared to the word “tide,” “flood” is larger in magnitude, more powerful and dangerous. The entire line, “Her bigness sweeps my being like a flood” provides a negative connotation because the speaker’s personality and human-like presence are devoured by America. Once again, this particular line emanates hate.
Despite McKay’s negative feelings of America, he suggests an optimistic view through the use of irony. Immediately preceding the third line, he writes “love this cultured hell.” The word “love” serves as a contradiction of his already established hate. Furthermore, America gives him “strength against her hate,” another example that epitomizes the irony present in his statement. The quatrain begins with “I gaze into the days ahead.” He believes that there still can be change, by looking into an optimistic future. According to the speaker, this “optimistic future” is probably a place where blacks are not discriminated against whites. McKay’s intentional use of irony thus enhances his argument on his mixed feelings of America.