In “America”, McKay uses powerful descriptors such as “sinks into my throat her tiger’s tooth” and “her bigness sweeps my being like a flood” to emphasize the oppressive nature of American society. Despite this powerful language, McKay does not condemn America but suggests that America is responsible for his poetic identity, his creativeness. The “cultured hell” he is forced to live in is also responsible for his success as a poet. Standing up before the American culture is a challenge for McKay. McKay sees society’s negativity as something that can be changed and not a hopeless cause. In the line “She feeds me bread of bitterness” McKay suggests that he is force fed American ideals and social norms in such a way that those ideals become necessary for survival, sustenance, the basic structure of existence. In this way society restricts not only the freedom of the individual but the freedom of artistic expression. McKay points toward the future when society can no longer survive as the oppressor of social and artistic expression when he describes the “priceless treasures sinking in the sand.” Treasures represent a society resting on a racist foundation. If a society, specifically America, is exposed to hatred for too long it loses those elements which make it unique and ethical such as its foundation of freedom and equality. Racism holds everyone back not only the marginalized. In addition, McKay is reminding a young nation that its lofty position in the world is unfounded and fallible.
Question: What does McKay’s employment of the sonnet suggest in terms of commenting on American society? Is it merely a poetical technique or a form of criticism or militancy?