Comparison: “Strong Men” by Sterling Brown and “If We Must Die” by Claude McKay
The works which are written and performed by different African-American authors have many similarities about motives and themes discussed in them. To analyze the presentation of the problem of racism in the country, it is necessary to refer to the poems “Strong Men” written by Sterling A. Brown and “If We Must Die” by Claude McKay and compare these poems in order to make conclusions about the authors’ vision of the problem and their presentation in poetry.
Although the poems by Brown and McKay have many differences in structure and rhythm, there are a lot of similarities associated with the topic of the poems which is racism and social injustice and with approaches to using literary devices and imagery.
Sterling A. Brown’s poem is written without following the clear structure pattern where rhythm and rhymes are insignificant when the work by Claude McKay is properly structured and rhymed. Nevertheless, it is possible to examine the organization of two works with references to their proclamation character.
Both authors draw the audience’s attention to the words with the help of repetition of such key phrases and claims as McKay’s “If we must die” and Brown’s accentuation of the actions performed by ‘they’ and repletion of the phrase “You sang.” In spite of the fact the general structure of two pieces is different, there are similarities based on the authors’ appeals and the forms of their representation in the texts.
Brown and McKay’s poems are correlated with references to the topic of racism, conflict of whites and blacks, and social inequality and injustice. Thus, Brown speaks to the black audience who is oppressed by white ‘strong men,’ referring to the white oppressors as ‘they,’ “they dragged you from the homeland, They chained you in coffles” (Brown 1).
The same conflict between whites and blacks is discussed in McKay’s “If We Must Die” where the author states that blacks are “hunted and penned in an inglorious spot” (McKay 2). However, if Brown only states the development of the conflict, saying that “They tried to guarantee happiness to themselves / By shunting dirt and misery to you”, McKay calls to fight till the end, stating that “Like men we’ll face the murderous, cowardly pack, / Pressed to the wall, dying, but fighting back!” (Brown 30-31; McKay 13-14).
Thus, the authors’ claims differ in the strength of presenting their vision of the conflict, slavery, and racial discrimination. McKay clearly states that if blacks die, they die fighting, and Brown masks the fight of blacks under the words sang by them, “Walk together children, / Dontcha git weary” (Brown 14-15).
Brown and McKay also use comparable animal imagery and similes to develop their topics. In his poem, Brown states “They broke you in like oxen,” and McKay refers to the “mad and hungry dogs” and “cowardly pack” (Brown 4; McKay 3, 13). Both the authors use repetition and parallelism to emphasize the key ideas in the poems and draw the audience’s attention to them.
Furthermore, there are a lot of words with a negative connotation such as ‘monsters’ and ‘bastards’ presented in both the poems to characterize whites from the perspective of blacks, to describe the aspects of the conflict and vision of blacks from the point of whites. Thus, the similarities between Brown and McKay’s poems can be explained from the point of a similar topic.
The differences are observed with references to the manner of discussing the topic and presenting it in different poetic forms. The Comparison of Sonia Sanchez’s “Summer Words of a Sistuh Addict” and Robert Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” are a rather challenging experience to compare the poems by Sonia Sanchez and Robert Hayden because of their obvious stylistic differences and usage as a song and a piece of poetry with references to the definite rhythmic peculiarities.
Nevertheless, Sanchez’s “Summer Words of a Sistuh Addict” and Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” can be successfully compared about focusing on the examination of the personal inner conflicts associated with religion and family relations which are depicted in the poems.
The music rhythm and the specific usage of alliteration and repletion in the poems are the features which allow speaking about the works’ similarities according to their organization. However, these language devices are necessary to emphasize the basic moments in the texts which are necessary to understand the works’ ideas.
Thus, Sanchez’s “Summer Words of a Sistuh Addict” is presented as a song in which the main character rebels against the definite religious norms with the help of using drugs “the first day I shot dope / was on a Sunday. /I had just / come home from church” (Sanchez 1-4).
The music rhythm is also reflected in Hayden’s poem with references to playing with sounds and using alliteration as it is in “when the rooms were warm” and repetition, “What did I know, what did I know” (Hayden 8, 14). These techniques help accentuate the audience’s attention to the personal inner conflicts of the characters.
Nevertheless, to discuss the topic, it is more important to refer to the usage of a symbol of Sunday in both texts. Sanchez emphasizes that the character begins to use drugs on Sunday, after coming home from church. Thus, the ignorance of the religious meaning of the day accentuates the development of the inner conflict to resolve which the character chooses to use drugs.
Furthermore, it is possible to find the source of the conflict in her family relations. On the contrary, Hayden uses the symbol of Sunday to state the importance of family relations and to emphasize the particular features of the character’s memories about the loving father. Thus, the author uses the detailed description to develop the idea of his conflict, “Sundays too my father got up early / and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold” (Hayden 1-2).
The inner conflicts of the characters which are portrayed in two poems are based on their relations with close people in the family. The references to the certain problems are reflected in such Sanchez’s lines as “sistuh. did u finally / learn how to hold / yo/mother?” (Sanchez 18-20).
The problem of unspoken love for their father is presented in Hayden’s poem because the character rethinks the father’s actions regarding his love for the boy and understands the real role of parental love. Although the similarities of Sanchez’s “Summer Words of a Sistuh Addict” and Hayden’s “Those Winter Sundays” are not obvious, there are a lot of comparable details which are resembled in themes and problems discussed in the works.
The Comparison of Nikki Giovanni’s “Nikki-Rosa” and “A Song in the Front Yard” by Gwendolyn Brooks. The question of the African-American identity and the issue of the whites’ vision of blacks are discussed in many poems and songs written by the African-American poets. Thus, the African-American authors are inclined to present the real picture of the ‘black’ life which is free from stereotypes and prejudice.
Nikki Giovanni’s “Nikki-Rosa” and “A Song in the Front Yard” written by Gwendolyn Brooks are good examples to analyze the topic of the African-American identity. Both the authors reflect on the class and racial issues developing the idea of the blacks’ cultural identity, but Brooks and Giovanni use rather different approaches to presenting their ideas in the literary form.
Brooks and Giovanni’s styles in writing poems are different. To write “Nikki-Rosa,” Giovanni uses the plain-spoken language without any literary devices. In contrast, Brooks concentrates on the symbolic and metaphorical language to depict the feelings of the character in the poem. Thus, Brooks uses the opposition of rather symbolic images of the front and back yard to develop the main idea of the poem and emphasize the topic of the African-American identity as well as social status of blacks.
Furthermore, the difference in the authors’ approaches to discuss the topic can be observed with references to the poems’ characters. Giovanni’s character belongs to the African-American group, and the girl can discuss the problem from inside. The girl portrayed by Brooks concludes about the African-American community only hoping to become closer to these people. Thus, the girl states, “I want to go in the back yard now” (Brooks 5).
The authors of the poems protest against the typical considerations and developed stereotypes about the particular features of black people’s lives and their characters and behaviors. Nevertheless, if Giovanni is inclined to present the vision of the issue from inside, referring to the black community, Brooks, the African-American author, intends to emphasize the problem with the help of the non-black character.
When Giovanni states, “I hope no white person ever has a cause / to write about me / because they never understand,” Brooks presents the outsider’s vision of the black children as “They do some wonderful things. / They have some wonderful fun” (Giovanni 27-29; Brooks 9-10). However, it is necessary to pay attention to the positive discussion of the attributes of the blacks’ life from the perspectives of both characters because of their sharing the ideals of the African-American community.
Thus, both the authors claim that black children have some ‘wonderful fun,’ and their childhood is happy because everybody within the community is ‘together’ (Brooks 10; Giovanni 24). To discuss the problematic theme of the African-American identity, life in the community, and social status of black people who often have lived in poverty, Giovanni and Brooks choose the concept of childhood as the period of persons’ learning the aspects of the world life and social interactions.
In spite of the fact the poets use different approaches to discussing the related topics and the language used differs significantly, there are many similarities in the poems because of the author’s interest in the topics discussed associated with their own cultural identity.
Brooks, Gwendolyn.. 2013.
Brown, Sterling. “Strong Men”. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates and Nellie McKay. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. 1987. Print.
Giovanni, Nikki. “Nikki-Rosa”. The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates and Nellie McKay. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. 1900. Print.
Hayden, Robert. 2013.
McKay, Claude. . 2013.
Sanchez, Sonia. “Summer Words of a Sistuh Addict.” The Norton Anthology of African American Literature. Ed. Henry Louis Gates and Nellie McKay. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2004. 1966. Print.
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