Feb 5, 2021 in Literature

Harlem shadows


Harlem Renaissance or New Negro Movement is a cultural movement , headed by leading African-American writers and artists , the heyday of African-American culture in the 1920s - 1930s . The development of Harlem Renaissance led to the recognition of a large influence of the culture of African-Americans on the culture of the United States of America. America first tried to get rid of stereotypes about blacks, who for decades have inculcated in American culture . There was a new image of an African American : educated, highly cultured and equal member of society. This cultural movement elected as its center the New York district of Harlem. There are many prominent poets and writers of the Harlem Renaissance. In his poem Harlem Shadows, the author McKay argued the problems of ideal of conformity.

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Analysis of Harlem Shadows

Harlem Shadows is the poem, which Claude McKay included in his first book, which had the same name Harlem Shadows. The protagonist of the poem is an African American girl, who wanders all night long from street to street. The author feels sorry for the girl, who has nothing to do but walk around the streets until the dawn. Unfortunately, the author does not say what the girl does at night. However, the authors remark go prowling through the night from street to street shows that, perhaps, the girl does something illegal to survive. From the poem, it is known that the girl does not have enough money, as well as much respect in the society. However, it is not hear fault, it is what the harsh stern world gave her.

In the poem, the barefoot girl symbolizes the African American race, as well. The African Americans wandered, as this girl, not all night long, but an entire epoch, when they had been enslaved. The Harlem renaissance is the prominent period of the African American culture. This time, the representatives of African American culture understood that they could write freely. McKay wanted to point out that no matter how long a night was, there would be dawn and the girl, or the African American people, would raise their heads to breathe in the air of freedom. Another proof that the wandering girl is used as a symbol of African American people is that the world divested them of respect, right, freedoms, honor and grace.

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Problem of conformity

Since the very beginning of their life in the United States of America, Negros wanted to become an equal to white Americans part of the society. First, they were simple slaves, who had no right and freedoms. Moreover, people did not notice them at all. Later, when all African Americans became free, they remained unnoticed in the society. They worked, as much as before, making the lives of white Americans easier. Nevertheless, they have always wanted to share the same community with white Americans. The African Americans did everything they could to become closer to the society they wanted to live in. however, there was no opportunity. For a long time, African American children were not allowed to attend school, especially together with white ones. Obviously, some of them were smarter than white African Americans. The main their disadvantage was skin color. Harlem renaissance is the period of proclaiming the image of new Negro the one, who is respected among white Americans.

There is no perfect person in the world. Everyone on the planet has disadvantages. However, in the United States of America, people have paid much attention on most of them for a long time. White Americans have built their perfect society. The problem was that nobody who had not fit into it was accepted. Black skin was not in the list of requirements. Nowadays, every citizen of the country realizes that it is skin color discrimination. The main problem of conformity that the author rose in the poem was race.

Arguing the ideal of conformity

All life long, most people have to conform something. They conform that they fit into society they live in. People conform they are smart, responsible, follow rules, etc. All of the requirements mentioned above can be changed during ones life. However, there are some of the societys demands, which a person is unable to fulfill. Such demands are skin color, psychological state, class, gender (although, nowadays it is possible, as well), etc.

In the poem Harlem Shadows, the author Claude McKay describes a tiny Negro girl, who wanders from street to street all night long. From the poem, it is unknown what the girl does on the empty streets. However, perhaps, her activity is illegal. From the poem, a reader also knows that the world does not respect her; she is dishonored and disgraced.

Every girl wants to be accepted among her friends and people around her. She does not want to wander all night long, thinking about her life or earning money illegally. She does not want to have bare foot, but beautiful shoes. She does not want the harsh stern world  to be around her. Instead, she wants all her days to be full of sunshine. She does not want to be disgraced and dishonored. Instead, she wants to be loved and respected. Perhaps, she is beautiful and smart. However, she has one disadvantage that disturbs her from living the way she wants. It is her skin color.

In the poem Harlem Shadows, the author Claude McKay argues the problems of ideal of conformity. The author suggest that sooner or later, the girl will rise her head and become independent, free and have her rights. Obviously, every society has its ideal of conformity. On the contrary, there should not be any ideal based on class, race or gender. The author does not see any reason, why the girl is not enjoying her life, but going down the Harlem streets all night long. The problem of ideal of conformity is that all ideals are in human minds. The narrower a human mind is, the more stereotypes a person has. Since the time African Americans began to live in the United States of America, it has been considered that they were not smart. Nowadays, some people have the same stereotypes. In the poem the author argues that it does not matter of what skin color, gender, religious believes, class a person is. A person may not fit into the society, follow all the rules of ideal of conformity; instead an individual may remain a member of society.


The essay was devoted to the issue of analyzing one of the poems of Claude McKay Harlem Shadows. The poem has been written in the Harlem Renaissance period of American literature. The author used the image of a Negro girl as a symbol of all the African Americans. The girl from the poem wanted to fit into the society around her. However, she had not chance to do that because of her skin color. Instead, she had nothing to do but walk on the streets of Harlem until the dawn. In the poem, the author argued the problem of the ideal of conformity. The main problem of it is that there is no ideal human; every person fits in the society on ones own.


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