Claude McKay was an important figure during the 1920’s in the Harlem Rennaisance. Primarily a poet, McKay used the point of view of the outsider as a prevalent theme in his works. This is best observed in such poems as “Outcast,” “America,” and “The White House.” In these poems, McKay portrays the African-American as the outsiderof western society and its politics and laws and at times, the very land that he is native to.
McKays’s poem, “Outcast,” is the most obvious example of this outsider theme. From the title to the last line there are many references to a feeling of alienation and neglect. The voice in the poem longs for “the dim regions whence my fathers came.” The voice also longs for
“forgotten jungle songs” and yearns to “go back to darkness and to peace.” This is the voice of the African-American removed from his native country and made an outsider of his own home. Alienation is also voiced as “I may never hope for full release while to its alien gods I bend my knee.” This line illustrates that the speaker is an outsider even where he lives and cannot escape. It would be useless even if he could because he would just be an outsider in Africa now as well.
This feeling of aliention is even further revealed in later lines where he “must walk the way of life a ghost among the sons of earth, a thing apart.” This line best exemplifies the plight of the African-American feeling removed from home and lost even in the western civilization he is forced to adopt. McKay’s “Outcast” is the poem which the “outsider” theme is most apparent. It creates a bleak yet vivid picture of the alienation to which the African-American is subjected.
“America” is another poem written by McKay that reveals the outsider theme of the Negro in America. McKay voices his love/hate relationship with America in this poem. He states that she “sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth, stealing my breath of life.” He does however “confess I love this cultured hell that tests my youth! Her vigor flows like tides into my blood giving me strength erect against her hate.”
This line indicates that while he struggles as an American, it is America that keeps him going: that she gives him life even as she sucks it away. McKay is saying that he loves America not so much as an American but as an outsider that needs the test to live and become stronger. Another example of the theme of alientation is in the line “Yet as a rebel fronts a king in state I stand within her walls.” McKay is once again using the point of view of the outsider rather than someone that really feels “American.” This poem is further evidence of McKays theme of alienation is his work.
In another of McKay’s works, “The White House,” the African-American as a political outsider is clearly demonstrated. The image invoked in the line “Your door is shut agianst my tightened face,” is that of an outsider looking in or wanting in but being shut out. The voice, or point of view of the outsider is once again used consistently throughtout the poem. By referring to the house, the door and the law all as “theirs” and not his, McKay very effectivly illustrates his alienation and disenfranchisement. He is speaking as one looking in on something rather than one that is a part of something. This is the very definition of an “outsider.”
More political reference can be found in the line where the White House tries to “hold me to the letter of your law.” This is most likely criticising the way that white Americans had the full benefit of law, while negroes had the worst of both worlds; being excluded from all its freedoms but included in all its punishments. McKay’s “White House” displays the exclusion of the American negro from the politics of the time. This makes for another good example of aliention theme in McKay’s works.
The poems “Outcast,” America,” and “The White House” all display the similiar aspects of being the outsider. Every work contains the voice of alienation throughout. By using this point of view, McKay makes very clear the position that Africans were placed in by the western society that they were forced into. The works seem to all work toward the social goal of making America a place where there are no outsiders but only Americans.