Analysis of Claude McKay's Tiger

Feb 21, 2009Updated 8 months ago

Tiger (IMG_0020_r)
Claude McKay, a Harlem Renaissance writer, wrote the poem, "Tiger," to express his frustration with America and racism. He primarily attacks Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal. Each line is packed with contempt because of the oppression of the African-American race. By using literary devices, McKay, conveys his attitude of anger, frustration, and contempt.


To create a brutal image of white men, McKay states that “the white man is a tiger at my throat.” Tigers kill their prey by tearing out there throat, which is how McKay views the attacks on blacks by whites. McKay elaborates on the attack with the “[tiger] drinking my blood as my life ebbs away.” The metaphorical death faced by African-Americans is the oppression imposed on them by white society. Because McKay does not mention pain and suffering, illustrates his frustration of having no way to escape this vicious fate.


McKay changes his audience to directly speak to white man to tell them “you may suck up all my blood and throw my carcass into potter’s field, But never will I say with you that mud is bread for Negroes!” The beginning of this apostrophe continues the metaphor of the tiger killing its pray to the white man oppressing blacks. McKay’s “permission” to kill him and throw away his body, symbolizes the physical passiveness he must display in society. However, he is not as passive as his actions, because he absolutely refuses to say that dirt is fit for Negroes. “Never will [he] yield” to the harsh decrees of white men. This active resistance illustrates the contempt he feels towards the white man who tells him that Negroes are beneath them.


In the second stanza, he shifts to broaden the topic from a personal to global. He attacks the “New Deal of the New World” for being a system “built on race and hate.” He is frustrated because America is known to be a world power and many other countries follow them, like “Europe and Africa and Asia.” If the policy is implemented in the US, he is frustrated because he knows that it will become a global problem.


Claude McKay knows that “The Eagle and the Dollar will command.” The Eagle symbolizes the United States because it is the national bird. The Dollar is the currency used in the United States. He doesn’t have to say the United States because it’s not the people as a whole, but how they are represented. By enforcing the New Deal, the representation of the United States will be one of hate against races.

Exclamation Points

The use of exclamation points illustrates his anger. It lets the reader know he is shouting these lines: “Never will I say with you that mud is bread for Negroes!” “The touted New deal of the New World’s hand!” “Oh Lord!” and “The tiger in his strength his thirst must slake!” These lines show the frustration with the enemy, the tiger, the white man. He finishes the poem in anger, stating that the white man (“tiger”) is only satisfied (“thirst must slake”) with the death of Negro freedoms (prey).