If We Must Die By Claude Mckay Essay

If We Must Die By Claude Mckay Essay

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In the battlefield when fighting against death can be futile, Claude Mckay’s persona in the poem “If We Must Die” gives one last speech to motivate his subordinates for one last stand in order to change despair into the will to fight. Throughout the poem, Mckay utilizes smile, imagery, and diction to strengthen the speech and to portray the enemy as savages. The poem is written in iambic pentameter; but the poet varies the iambic pattern by using trochaic, spondaic, and anapestic feet to underscore images and ideas. At first glance to the reader, the poem seems to be about a last stand against the enemy; however, with further analysis, one can see that the persona is creating a legacy for future generations. To manifest this illusion, the author deliberately structures the poem’s plot to be in a war time, fighting a losing battle against beasts. Is the persona’s speech to motivate his men to give one last stand against the enemy or was it to create an impacting legacy to strengthen future generation?
From the first line, “If we must die, let it not be like hogs” (1), Mckay uses a simile to show that a soldier’s death should not be to be openly butchered, end without an impact. Line 1 starts off with a spondaic foot “If we”, then continues to the end of the line with all iambic feet to gather the attentions of his subordinates into a single will. Following that simile, “Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot” (2), the speaker expands the imagery of a hog dying stuck in one location and waiting to be killed to reinforce a solider should not create a legacy of giving up. With “While round us back the mad and hungry dogs, / Making their mock at our accursed lot,” (3-4) the persona is trying to accomplish two tasks: provoke his men...

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...n; then even the monsters we defy/ Shall be constrained to honor us though dead!” (5-8), to establish a legacy of overcoming the final ordeal of one’s life, the fear of death. “O kinsmen! We must meet the common foe! /Though far outnumbered let us show us brave, /And for their thousand blows deal one deathblows!” (9-11) to create a legacy dye in many hues of suffering and happiness for others to see. “What though before us lies the open grave? / Like men we’ll face the murderous cowardly pack, / Pressed to the wall, dying but fighting back!” (12-14) to finish a legacy with a magnificent conclusion of resisting against hell and death themselves until one’s last breath. Mckay may have intensified the atmosphere of the battlefield setting to emphasize the theme: fight against death as long as possible to build a legacy full of suffering and happiness for the future.

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