In Claude McKay’s, “Old England” and “Quashie to Buccra” McKay makes use of dialect as a way to give poems a quantity of meanings. What may be seen as a simplistic or naive poem about Jamaican life may very well be full of double meanings that only a select audience would be succesful of determine. In his poem’s, McKay ultimately gives Negros who work underneath white colonists the underlying message of black resistance by revolution. Perhaps what makes this interpretation so convincing is the background of the writer.
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McKay was born Sunny Ville Jamaica as the youngest of 11 sons. While in Jamaica, McKay wrote “Songs of Jamaica”, which is the place “Quashie to Buccra” is derived from. In this time, he also turned a self proclaimed socialist, “ As a socialist, McKay finally became an editor at The Liberator, along with writing various articles for a selection of left-wing publications” (Giles 1). During this period, McKay wrote “If We Must Die”, another poem charged with angst against the oppressed Negro society.
Notably this poem was read aloud by Winston Churchill throughout World War II, nevertheless left unattributed to McKay himself. This may be seen as a reflection on society of the time, and how they weren’t able to see a poem like that as a black revolutionary poem, and that the problems of the black Negro were quietly swept beneath the rug or ignored completely. This is probably why the reading of an Englishman would differ so tremendously from an African Negro studying “Quashie to Buccra”, because the Englishmen of the time were out of contact with the strife these employees were experiencing.
McKay’s communist background might very properly be a bi-product of the cultural discrepancies of the time, and a way for the workingman to get back at the bourgeoisie, or white, upper social class. To tackle the double meanings of Claude McKay’s work, the reader should first have a glance at the floor layer. As we discussed at school, the poems have been done on the condition they were completed in Jamaican dialect, not necessarily because of Claude McKay’s personal selection.
To a white, European society reading the poem, it comes across as a poem a couple of easy agriculturalist that’s telling the white plantation owner in regards to the fruits of his labor, and the way they will not be fully appreciated. In actuality, the poem can be seen by Negros as a way to criticize the white plantation owner and in reality plant the seeds of revolt. Indeed, the title of the work itself leads credence to it being veiled in double which means. While a white, European within the high rungs of the social ladder could read the poem as a easy handle of employee to plantation proprietor.
However, a Negro experiencing the strife of Quashie, the black peasant employee who produces sweet potatoes within the poem, might relate to the unfairness of they expertise from the Buccra, which is the white man being addressed in the poem. Indeed, McKay factors out within the poem, “You taste the potato, and also you say it’s candy, but you don’t understand how hard we work for it” (McKay 2). Buccra even attempts to haggle for a cheaper price, additional exhibiting he doesn’t understand the work that goes into farming the candy potatoes, “You need a basketful fe quattiewut” (McKay 3).
Not solely does this demonstrate the Buccra’s insensitivity to the work that goes into the harvest, however it exhibits he’s greedy and milking the natives for every final sixpence. A white reader might look at the studying as Quashie simply complaining about his hard work, “The sun is scorching like when fireplace catches a town” (McKay 9). In actuality, Quashie would do that work even if he weren’t required to as a end result of he has a way of pride, “Although the shade tree looks tempting, we wouldn’t lie down even when we could” (McKay 10-11).
Someone working these fields could relate to the pride and craftsmanship that takes to plow in a straight line, or work by way of the tough Earth. This reading may be taken another step additional. It’s not common for a hearth to easily catch a town, and for a Negro studying the poem, they could see it as a call to rebel and truly set a city ablaze as vengeance in opposition to white society. A rebellion such as setting a wealthy city ablaze wouldn’t be unheard of in a communist state, and it might be a name to arms for Jamaican Negros reading the poems in “Songs of Jamaica”.
Undeniably, there appears to be a lexicon for violence within the poem that could be completely glossed over by a white, European reader. “Although the vine is little, it can bear. It wishes for nothing but a little care. You see potato tearing up the bottom, you run. You laughing, you should think it’s fun” (McKay 16-20). As said earlier, a European audience could really feel this is merely Quashie denouncing that his work is difficult, and that he’s just saying his woes in a foolish way, and that the complete thing simply merrily amuses the white plantation owner.
However, when you choose to take a glance at this through the perspective of a Negro who is craving to break free of their oppressors, it could have a wholly totally different reading. Quashie planting seeds could be seen as planting the seeds of an rebellion. The imagery of potatoes arising from the ground appears comical at first, but when you’re an oppressed worker, you might see this because the crops being metaphorical for the workers rising forth to take revenge against the plantation homeowners.
Even as Quashie explains to Buccra that he’s severe, Buccra seems to fully blow him off as if he’s “making a fun”, or a funny joke, as if the work isn’t taking a serious toll on the Jamaicans. This sort of sentiment could be seen within the final stanza, wherein Claude McKay seemingly dismisses every little thing he’s talked about earlier, “Yet still the hardships at all times melt away, each time it comes around to reaping day” (McKay 25-26). A white, European reader may take a look at Quashie’s dismissal of all his earlier complaining, as if to say, “Oh nicely, it may have been back breaking labor, but no less than the potatoes are good for eating!
In reality, there could also be a darker reading here that a Jamaican potato farmer can be extra apt to catch onto. The imagery of “reaping day” appears to additionally imply that if the Buccra doesn’t start taking him seriously, the Grim Reaper, or on this case, the workers that are being taken advantage of, could make their troubles soften away by merely rising up and performing some reaping of their very own that has nothing to do with crops. This doesn’t imply, however, that McKay essentially wanted a revolution.
It could have been more of a final resort. Indeed, he makes is evident in “Old England” that he has nice respect for British culture. “McKay still expressed admiration for the British. He believed that the Jamaicans had acquired their democratic spirit and respect for regulation and order from the British” (Tillery 14). Indeed, in “Old England”, McKay expresses great needs to visit what he calls his homeland. He refers to Queen Victoria as “Queen Victoria the Good”, and longs to visit the place where poets and kings alike are buried.
Again, nevertheless, there appears to be a discrepancy in what completely different readers could interpret. While it could all seem reverent, he makes it clear that in demise, the poets and kings is all alike, and that of their graves, the kings and queens discover a place to hold up their crowns. This could symbolize McKay’s gripe with the rich class, and the way they appear to have a disconnect with the working class Jamaican’s, regardless of his own love for Britain, and may not deserve a spot next to say the poets that impressed McKay’s writing.
In conclusion, Claude McKay uses dialectical tools to draw totally different readers to different readings. What one individual may even see as a happy go lucky poem about a potato farmer may really symbolize a call to arms. His use of manipulating the dialect to create a quantity of readings causes the reader to query what precisely his true viewers is what he’s trying to tell them via word choice and double meaning.