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American Modernism is a melting pot of different beliefs and cultures, affected by African American traditions and experiences, including literature and art of the Harlem Renaissance. Writers were urged to examine the meaning of an African past and to utilize it in their art. The Harlem Renaissance was brought up by the existence of this interest, and by the development of American modernism and the readiness to accept experimentation and to expand their artistic expression. In the Poem, “America”, written by Claude McKay, the speaker exerts his passionate feelings both positively and negatively toward America. The 1920s were a time of excitement, but also a time of struggle. This poem clearly shows both sides during the Harlem Renaissance. McKay uses personification in his poem, “America”, to explain his surprise that the American dream is becoming harder and harder to achieve.
This poem has an amazing use of personification because the entire time the subject represents and plays America. America is described in a big metaphor. If you take the first 4 lines, “Although she feeds me bread of bitterness, And sinks into my throat her tiger's tooth, Stealing my breath of life, I will confess, I love this cultured hell that tests my youth,” you can see that these are all feelings evoked from motherly characteristics. Not only does comparing America to a mother help the reader relate better to the speaker, but it shows what America is and how it appears. Throughout the poem, the subject stands as America. However, the author speaks of America metaphorically, referring to the country as a mother figure, sometimes harsh, sometimes gentle. “Although she feeds me bread of bitterness” and “Her vigor flows like tides into my blood” are both images of a mother providing nourishment to her child. The author's mixed emotions of his “mother” are evident in the contradicting lines, “Stealing my breath of life, I will confess I love this cultured hell...” and “Giving me strength erect against her hate...” By personifying the subject of his poem, McKay turns what would be a confusing twist into a very personal, relatable topic.
Another use of personification comes in the poet's depiction of time. Personified as both unmarked territory and as a man, time plays an important role in McKay's feelings and tone. “Darkly I gaze into the days ahead” is a line in which the imagery of time as a landscape to be seen is used. Metaphorically, the days ahead are in such close reach, the poet can “gaze into” them. The fact that McKay describes himself as “darkly” gazing is a clue as to what sort of tone he wishes to convey toward the future: one of apprehension or dread. Speaking of “the touch of Time's unerring hand,” McKay personifies time in a way to describe his feelings toward American land and to make somewhat of a political statement. The full poetic sentence reads, “Darkly I gaze into the days ahead and see her might and granite wonders there beneath the touch of Time's unerring hand, like priceless treasures sinking in the sand.” Time's “unerring hand,” much like the steady hands of an authoritative man, covers the “priceless treasures” that adorn Mother Earth as they slip away, seemingly unnoticed. This extension of figurative language resolves any confusion the reader may have had before as to why the poet was “darkly” gazing. In “the days ahead,” McKay speaks of destruction and aridity.