THE HARLEM DANCER

by: Claude McKay (1890-1948)
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APPLAUDING youths laughed with young prostitutesexternal image Mckay.jpg
And watched her perfect, half-clothed body sway;
Her voice was like the sound of blended flutes
Blown by black players upon a picnic day.
She sang and danced on gracefully and calm,
The light gauze hanging loose about her form;
To me she seemed a proudly-swaying palm
Grown lovelier for passing through a storm.
Upon her swarthy neck black, shiny curls
Profusely fell; and, tossing coins in praise,
The wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys, and even the girls,
Devoured her with their eager, passionate gaze;
But, looking at her falsely-smiling face
I knew her self was not in that strange place.

Biography


Festus Claudius Mckay was one of eleven children. He was born on September 15th, 1889 in south central Jamaica to Thomas Francis and Ann Elizabeth Edwards McKay. It was his older brother who introduced a school teacher who introduced him to literature and other school subjects. At the age of 10, he started to write poetry. In 1906, he decided to go to a trade school, having to go to get a job after because the school was demolished by an earthquake. While Mckay was in his teen years, the writer Edward Jekyll came to his island to study Jamaican dialect. He and Mckay became close friends. With Jekyll, he was introduced to English literature; he also told Mckay that he should start writing poetry.

Mckay published his first poems in 1912. These two poems were called Songs of Jamaica and Constab Ballads. While he had written his first poetry, he won a local prize for his poems and decided to come to the United States of America where he first attended Tuskegee Institute. He ended up switching to Kansas State College because he realized the racism and he didn't like the structure of the college. He evidentially dropped out because he realized that to be a writer, he had no need for a college education. In 1914, Mckay moved to Harlem, New York City, where he lost his money in a restaurant venture. On July 30th later that year, he married Eulalie Imelda Edwards, who was his childhood friend. Their marriage lasted six months and his ex wife returned to Jamaica to have his only child.

Mckay was introduced to Frank Harris Pearson's Magazine, and Max Eastman the editor of the Liberator. In 1919, "If we must die", one of his best known poems, was published in the Liberator. This poem was about the racism in the world, and Mckay was a In 1920, Mckay decided to pack up and move to London, where he then worked for Sylvia Pankhurst's Marxist periodical, Worker's Dreadnought. This is where he got to practice with his journalism. In that same year he published a book, Spring in New Hampshire. He then decided to come back to the United States of America. In 1922, his book of poems, Harlem Shadow, was published. Included in this book was Harlem Dancer and other poems. Later in 1922 while Mckay was the editor of the Liverator, he had to resign because of disputes with one of the editors. He then went on a twelve year trip through Europe. When he was in the Soviet Union, he compiled a book of his journals called The Negroes in America. This however, was not published in the U.S. until the late 1970’s.

He moved to Morocco in 1930, then back to the U.S. in 1934. In 1936, he gained access to the Federal Writers Project, writing his autobiography A long way from Home in 1937. He was also a civil rights activist, publishing articles in The Nation, the New Leader, and the New York Amsterdam News. In 1938, he found his new religion of Catholicism. He became a citizen of the United States of America in 1940. He never did get to return to his homeland, he had heart ailments and medical problems toward the end of his life. He finished out his career as an author with Harlem: Negro Metropolis. It was a fiction story, mainly about racism. He lived the last five years of his life in Chicago. Claude Mckay was one of the great writers and poets of the renaissance. He will be remembered for years to come.


Publication

by Mike Ayella-Silver and Suzie Borchard

hometoharlem.jpg"The Harlem Dancer" was originally printed in Claude McKay's book Harlem Shadows which was a collection of poems 'Harlem Shadows" and "The Harlem Dancer" being McKay's most famous. Harlem Shadows was published in 1922 and became one of the first works by a black writer to be published by a well konwn, national publisher. Harcourt, Brace and Company located in New York.

Harcourt, Brace and Company is a U.S. publishing firm of New York. It was started by Alfred Harcourt and Donald Brace in 1919. The firm has a long history of publishing fiction and nonfiction for children and adults. Before the company was founded, these two men were friends at Columbia University and worked together for Henry Holt and Company. Harcourt, Brace and Company led the maket in high school textbook publishing along with publishing works intelligent writers including George Orwell and Sinclair Lewis. Harcourt, Brace and company is presently part of the publishing group Reed Elsevier but recently talks about seperating from the large company.

Other works that were published by McKay were “ Spring in new hampshire” in 1920, “Home to Harlem” in 1927, “Banjo” in 1929, and “Banana Bottom”, 1933. After publishing two major poems, Harlem Dancer, and Invocation, he was then recognized for his talent as a lyric poet by Frank Harris, editor of Pearson's magazine, The Seven Arts Magazine, and The Liberator, edited by Max Eastman. Frank Harris encouraged McKay to go to England, where he could achieve even more writing experience, and in 1918 he moved to England. When he returned to the United States, in 1919, he became associate editor of The Liberator, and afterwards Max Eastman became the editor. When Max Eastman became the editor, he published McKay's If We Must Die, in The Liberator.

Harlem, New York in 1922 during the publication of "Harlem Shadows" was a time of many inportant events. In 1919 the 369th infantry regiment of black american sodiers became an inspiration to the harlem renaissance when they marched up fifth avenue of harlem. This was followed by Claude McKay's journal writing If We Must Die. Also in 1919 W.E.B. Dubois organizes the pan-african congress in Paris. In 1921 Langston Hughes publishes his first poem which was followed by an exhibition of African American art held at 135th street branch of the New York public library. These inspirations may all have been reason for Claude McKay's first published book "Harlem Shadows" in 1922 and many other poems for the next 20 during Harlem Renaissance.


CRITICISM


CRITICISM- Jessica Morganroth
Jean Wagner states that Claude McKay’s poems are already marked with “sharpness of vision, an inborn realism, and a freshness which provide a pleasing contrast with the conventionality which, at this same time, prevails among the black poets in the United States.” His poems convey his pride and his dialect and powerful voice express the messages that he is trying to get the reader to come across. One can scarcely overstress the importance of the elements McKay’s symbolizes. Jean Wagner realizes that “McKay feels constantly drawn to nature and sensed the need to become totally merged in it. The emotion it aroused in him transcended by far the exclusively aesthetic plane.” Most of McKay’s themes are acquired in the racial context. It is known to all who are familiar with McKay’s poems that: “[McKay’s] American poems give vent to his racial pride with a forcefulness he had never exhibited before. This outburst is so authentic, and so much in keeping with his own fiery, passionate temperament, that the little influence need be attributed to the stimulus he could have found elsewhere in the paeans to race that were being sounded by his compatriot Garvey.” As Claude McKay’s pride is strengthen and tested by adversity, he raises racial consciousness to the visual plane. Hatred has acquired quite a power of transfiguration. It becomes the favored theme of the poet’s song, for it alone can make his surroundings bearable: “Hatred is the compensatory factor that assures the equilibrium of his personality, allowing him to adapt himself adequately to his environment.” This interpretation of his cultural attitude has actually found supporters. He hates evil, not America. “Though McKay may justifiably be called the poet of hatred and rebellion, his real personality would be seriously misrepresented if one were to treat him as an out and out rebel.” Richard Wright believes that rebellion is a way of life and McKay’s hated undergoes a sublimation that induces it to consume itself. In its place of tranquility that is not indifference, but a deepening and internalization of racial feeling. The Harlem Dancer is once again one of McKay’s most favored thesis “maintaining that the white world, more often then was generally believed, was a setting unfit to receive all that blacks have to offer it.” The basic evil is hate itself, and that is what he must hate. It is hate that wrecks unity, setting men one against the other, and the individual against himself.
I agree with what the critics say about Claude McKay and his poems. His strongly voiced opinions portray his hatred and rebellious manner towards society’s racism. The way he writes and the attitude of his words are what help him deal with society’s evilness and his poems, therefore, bring him peace. His pride helps him become the powerful poet he is and without his anger and hatred towards the world, his poems would probably lose meaning. His realistic, objective manner allows him to be the magnificent writer he is.

CRITICISM- Micha Levenson
Critic William Stanley Braithwaite believes that the most important accomplishment from the poetry of the Harlem Rennaisance is the sonnet, signed by Eli Edwards ( pseudonym of Claude Mckay.) He believed that the New York poet chose to hide his true identity as a poet from the people with whom he worked.
William Brathiwaite feels that Claude Mckay may well be the keystone of the new movement in racial poetic achievment. He also states that "The power in Claude McKay is, his ability to reproduce a hectic scene of reality with all the solid accessories, as in The Harlem Dancer, and yet make it float as it were upon a background of illusion through which comes piercing the glowing sense of a spiritual mystery." The spiritual mystery that he refers to is what he imagines is behind the "falsley -smiling face"
Brathwaite states that Mckay is using the "confusing details" of his past experiences to create this poem. In these words " the image in all its completeness of outline and its gradation of color, and rendered with that precise surety of form," the critic is saying that Claude Mckay, like an artist, is giving life to the image he has created in his poetry as would a "resourceful artist" in a great work.
Braithwaite points out that McKay holds the intoxicated wild dancer in high regard by suggesting that there is far more behind that "falsely smiling face" He suggests that the woman in the "Harlem dancer" is perhaps lost in the innocent memories of child hood, or is fantasizing about love or even imagining that the fruits of her wild frenzied dancing, her earnings, is keeping her aged parents safe and secure in their homes, far away.

I agree with most of William Stanley Brathwaite's criticism. It is clear that Mckay used the pseudonym Eli Edwards in some of his poetry. Whilst reading the poem i could picture the exact scene through the beautiful manner in which he described it. Through his imagery, "proudly swaying palm" "the wine flushed, bold eyed boys," and "her swarthy neck black, shiny curls" etc.., the reader can picture that exact moment in time.
I agree that he has used literary tools comparable to the way that an artist would paint a painting, the " completeness of outline and its gradation of color" is how brathiwaite describes his writing.
I would agree with Brathwaite that the poet holds the dancer in high regard. When the poet talks about her beautiful form, he compares her to something strong and natural, " a proudly swaying palm," suggesting that she is proud in her half clothed state. He is also suggesting that she is very tallented, "her voice was like the sound of blended flutes," and her dance was graceful and calm.
However, when Brathwaite uses the word "intoxicated," inconjunction with the dancer, there is nothing to suggest in the poem that she is infact drunk.
I very strongly agree with Brathwaite's sense of a spiritual mystery. She is a mysterious form, with " light gauze hanging losely around her form," and the suggestion that she has come through stormy times in her life, but grown lovelier through her experinece, gives her a further sense of mystery. Most of all, behind that " falsely smiling face" the poet suggests that there is a depth to her, she isnt just flaunting her half -clothed body infront of drunk youths. Brathwaite imagines her thinking back to her child hood, daydreaming of happiness and love, or even "dreaming of a far away country, where she might send her earnings, to support her elderly parents" Brathwaite refers to the poets generosity of spirit when he gives the girl the benefit of the doubt by injecting a sence of warmth and compassion for the girl.

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Annotation


by Eve Gural- Title- The Harlem Dancer. Title rases questions. Is she a prostitue or just a dancer? Narrarator- Really thinking about who the girl really is, not into just her body like the other people he is with. Infatuated with her. Analizes her from head to toe. He puts dark skin in a postive light because at the time there was a lot of racism. He feels he knows how this dancer is feeling. At the end of the poem he shifts from talking about how she looks to how she is feeling. Style- Chooses words that help you see the picture. Bold eyed boys. The b makes you think of bulging eyes. line 1. The mood is lively, prostitutes= promiscuous. line 2. Focusing mostly on her body. Face not mentioned at this point. Imagery of her body. Sensual. line 3. Jazzy. Picnic scene suggests informal/ "jam" session. line 4. Blended, Blown and black is an alliteration. line 7. Proud swaying palm- imagery. After trouble she grows stronger. May be troubled because she is a prostitute. She is also probably very poor. Swaying- She is more proud to be who she is because she has come close to falling. line 8. Grown lovlier after a passing storm- Even though all her troubles she stays standing and strong which makes her more beautiful. 9. Swarthy= Dark complection. first time talking about her head and not body. Imagery about race and hair. line 10. gives the idea of tossing coins at a prostitute, girl is dancing for money. line 11. Drinking causes young adults to losen up. Women so beautiful even girls can't help staring. line 12. No one can take their eyes off of her. Eating her with their eyes. line 13. falsely smiling face- just putting on an act for money. line 14. Fourteen lines= a sonnet. Her head really was somewhere else and not having the good time everyone else was. Strange place- She doesn't belong in Harlem. She wants to do more with her life than be a dancer.

By Yuan Jie Wen: Rhyme scheme: a: prostitutes b: sway a: flutes b: day c: calm d: form c: palm d: storm e: curls f: praise e: girls f: gaze g: face g: place. General tone: There is a sudden shift in tone in line 12. Especially noticable because there is a word " but"/ He gives a reminder that what she is is false and his earlier assumptions about her peing proud are untrue. So there is a change in tone from a positive to a negative. We can even look at it this way, from lines 1-12, we can assume that the Harlem dancer is already familiar and the place is natural to her. The author even describes her as being graceful, calm, and a proudly swaying palm. There are no signs of her being nervous or unsure. It is almost as if she owns the place. But, as the author zooms into her face and describes a false- smiling face, this paints a whole different picture. What Eve said about focusing from body to the face is good cause from her body, we can see her confidence or security since it is described as being perfect and her movements are steady and graceful, but as we focus in on the face, what she appears to be is actually false. From a different perspective, she is actually isolated from the place because she could just be following a strict routine of a dancer. She is doing what she is doing just to survive. The crowd has a lot of expectations, out of her since they are eager and that it seems like all the attention is focused on her . This isolation of the Harlem dancer gives a depressing tone since now we can see that she is actually all alone.

By Michael Ayella-Silver- The Harlem Dancer. I do not believe the dancer is a prostitute. The dancer is doing her job with beauty and gracefulness. The narrarator can tell the dancer does not want to be there and is sad with a false smile but needs the job. This may mean one must look beyond the appearance and look inside of a person and judge people by their inside not their appearence. This may also relate to african americans and looking beyond their skin color or their job but look at someones mind and soul to judge them fairly. The prostitutes reconized in the poem I think are part of the audiance watching the beautiful dancer. This poem can also be looked at by how everyday we do things we like and dislike but either way we must complete these tasks to be sucessful and although the dancer is hiding her emotions it is just an everyday task we all incounter. They also make a lot of suggestions about the audiance of young boys and girls. The fact that these youths do not see the unhappy smile of the dancer and only the narrirator sees this may represent how people are unaware of others feelings including african americans. I like this poem, and can see the imagry very well in my mind of a graceful dancer with a false smile being praised by an audiance of young girls and boys.

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Other Poems by Claude Mckay




Works Cited


Wagner, Jean. "Claude Mckay" Black Poets in the United States.The Gale Group. Harriton Hgh School Library, Rosemont. 1 March 2007. <<http://galenet.galegroup.com>.
Laymon, Brucolli, "Claude Mckay" Claude Mckay, The Gale Group. Harriton High School Library, Rosemont. 26 Feb. 2007 <http://galenet.galegroup.com>.
Braithwaite, William, "Claude Mckay" some contemporary poets of the negro race. Harriton High school Library. 6 April. 1919.
http://galenet.galegroup.com
Giles, Freda S. "Claude McKay's Life." Uiuc.Edu. 2000. University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. 26 Feb. 2007 <http://www.english.uiuc.edu/maps/poets/m_r/mckay/life.htm>.