The White House (by Claude McKay) Analysis

For any additional help, I am contactable at the follow email address: ammarhammadkhan@gmail.com

Context of Author

  • Jamaican-American poet.
  • Seminal figure in the Harlem Renaissance.

Structure of the Poem

  • Resembles a Shakespearian Sonnet, and incorporates the iambic pentameter.
  • Has a rhyme scheme which could denote conformity to white supremacist ideology (further supported by the quote ‘…law’
  • No stanza division

Title

  • White House is supposed to symbolise equality, freedom and where the President lives, which is meant to symbolise and show its importance + traditional ties to USA as a historical symbol.
  • Instead, the name is meant to be ironic that the house is ‘white’ and could emphasis white supremacy rather than the equality it ‘advocates’ for.

Themes

  • Racial segregation
  • Discrimination
  • Democracy
  • White Supremacy
  • Racism

Language Analysis and Critical Appreciation

  • ‘tightened’: Tense and frustrated feelings of vexation felt by the poet. Trying to remain calm. Disillusionment and disenchantment from society.
  • ‘sharp as steel’: Alliteration which produces an acoustic effect and further emphasises his resentment and thus anger. A simile, and thus the poet can be ruthless if necessary and has built up resentment in him.
  • ‘proudly’: Does not negate or disguise his anger. He is confident, despite many of the segregated ideas produced and targeted at men of colour.
  • ‘burn loose’: His feet/presence radiates such anger that the world that is tangible and surrounding him gradually looses it touch and is effected by this abstract emotional feeling he is experiencing.
  • ‘chafing savage,…’: Comma/caesura to allow the comfort of being able to explain multiple ideas on one mind and thus shows his overflowing thoughts and emotions on the subject and has to quickly express them.
  • ‘…decent street’: Ironically calling it ‘decent’.
  • ‘…passion’: Anger reposed and looks at it like an almost goal and way of life – because his entire life would evolve into him trying to advocate and debate for his rights and this resentment would live in him ever since such racism exists. Intangible and abstract but it is very great and that makes all the difference.
  • ‘…shattered door’: Passion/abstract ideals so strong that the door shatters and ultimately such emotions radiate from the poet due to his compelling mind which has now been revealed with power and confidence.
  • ‘…wisdom’: Against anachronistic ideals of segregation.
  • ‘…wrathful bosom’: Emphasising his resentment.
  • ‘…superhuman’ —> ‘law’: Extra qualities must be possessed and assumed (which are not defined as human, but rather, superhuman) to be held to the ‘law’ which undermines such black peoples. This is why it would be acknowledged as superhuman rather than human, because humans are known to be incentive-loving individuals however this provides no such incentive however acceptance is a compulsion.
  • ‘…heart inviolate’: Pure and true ideals/character.
  • ‘…potent poison’: Alliteration and acoustic effect produced.
  • ‘…hate.’: Last word we acknowledge, and the emotion displayed. The inhabitants feel such an emotion, rather than the author, who is tirelessly guarding himself against such values.
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