Harlem Shadows (Poem Analysis)

Harlem Shadows

The Harlem Shadows is a poem that was written by Claude McKay.  The poem shows empathy for the marginalized people in society and MacKay give the examples of the prostitutes who work overnight to make ends meet in life. He also talks about his fallen race and how poverty and disgrace have taken over hence making the world a stern place to live. MacKay uses synecdoche, repetition, and imagery to bring out the idea of the current situation of the world that people are living in.

An example of synecdoche is the stanza whereby the poet says that the feet of the women stand up for their exploitation. This does not just imply women but is a reflection of the whole of the fallen race. In turn, the fallen race portrays the minorities and the individuals that are being exploited. The minorities are being degraded in the manner that there are no good jobs that an individual can depend on to live a successful life. A good example is a case whereby the ladies have to carry out prostitution, standing the whole night in unconducive weather. In addition, the women could not be doing such kind of work if they were being raised in a world that had other respectable jobs for them. Likewise, other people in the society were also doing any dirty work to make a living in the harsh world.

In addition, MacKay has also used repletion to bring out the intensity of the harsh world that the minorities are living in. An example is the repetition of the phrase “street to street” at the end of every stanza. This is an indication that the minorities are stuck in the current situation and have no means of improving their lives. It is like a shadow that has struck their life, and the poet feels sympathy for them because they are not living a life that anyone would wish to live. It is everybody’s dream that they get good education and career to live a comfortable life. However, with the shadow in that brings about dishonoring and disgrace among the minorities, then it would be difficult for them to achieve their dreams. The poet puts across that the footsteps of the ladies at night are halting. This is an indication that they are not willing to do the job of prostitution, but life has given them no choice rather being in the street and bearing the cold nights in order to make a living. The repetition of the word weary portrays the manner in which the women are already tired with their daily life of prostitution and also their life in general. They have been forced into this kind of degradation by social trauma such as poverty. Hence, they have to work to stay out of that poverty. The poet does not only speak about women but refers to the whole group of minorities in the society.

Also, the poet uses imagery to emphasize the kind of world that the minorities are living in. An example is a case whereby he describes the harsh world as being filled with disgrace, dishonor, and poverty.  The women bear the struggles of the cold night to make money that would, in turn, clear away the poverty that they live in. In addition, this poverty has resulted in a life of disgrace and dishonor because the minorities have to do degrading activities in order to make money. As well, MacKay shows that a specific group cannot grow intellectually and culturally if they are allocated the worst location in a nation. In this case, he is talking about the Harlem streets whereby the minorities keep wandering from street to street. It is a location that does not offer the possibility of succeeding in life due to the poor infrastructure and this explains the reason as to why the minorities will keep on wandering in search for a good life in vain. The poem is made to trigger critical thinking instead of violence.

Therefore, the use of synecdoche, repetition, and imagery has successfully brought out the idea of a harsh world that most of the minority groups live in. Although the poet was not being direct about the people he was talking about, women are a group of people that are known to represent a whole community. Hence, in this case, by using the example of prostitution, he was referring to all kinds of degrading jobs.  In real life, people are being faced with similar challenges whereby the gap between the rich and the poor is enlarging day by day. The rich live in posh areas whereby the poor are left to hustle in the ghettos whereby there are very few chances of growth. As a result, this means that they will keep on wandering in such areas as they work to meet their daily living expenses. Therefore, this poem is still an allegory to real life.

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