Analysis of "The Tropics in New York" by Claude McKay

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“The Tropics in New York” was written by Claude McKay in 1920. McKay was born in Jamaica in 1890 and immigrated to the United States in 1912. The twenty-two years that he lived in Jamaica gave him inspiration for this poem. The poem includes masterful imagery and other literary devices.

The poem starts with McKay’s somewhat cheerful description of luscious tropical fruits: “Bananas ripe and green, and ginger-root, / Cocoa in pods and alligator pears,” (lines 1-2). At this point, the reader is not sure what path this poem will take. Lines 5 and 6, “Set in the window, bringing memories/ Of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,” cause the reader to detect a sense of melancholy in McKay’s words. These two lines along with line 7, “And dewy dawns, and mystical blue skies,” combine to create an idyllic image of his lost paradise. This image contrasts heavily with his present surroundings in New York City.

It becomes clear in lines 9 and 10, “My eyes grew dim, and I could see no more gaze; A wave of longing through my body swept,” that the speaker is reminiscing and longing for a time and a place in his past; a place that seems unattainable to him now. By lines 11 and 12, “And, hungry for the old, familiar ways, / I turned aside and bowed my head and wept,” the reader understands completely why he has become overcome by grief. The grief is so strong that it brings him to tears due to a sense of hunger, not for the various fruits, but hunger for his native country.

The speaker in this poem is the poet, Claude McKay. He lived in Jamaica from 1890-1912 and wrote the poem while he lived in the United States. He wrote several other poems about Jamaica, so it is obvious that he missed his home country. This poem sounds fitting to an experience that he could have had.

“The Tropics in New York” is written in iambic pentameter, which means there are five feet, or pairs, of unaccented then accented syllables per line. There are three stanzas and each stanza contains four lines. The rhyme scheme for the poem is ABAB CDED FGFG. The regular rhyme scheme is not present because in the second stanza, the words “memories” and “skies” do not rhyme. The form of this poem is very similar to the story that the poem tells. The rhyme scheme and meter follows a regular pattern, and the poem is also told in a standard and linear pattern.

“The Tropics in New York” is filled with remarkable imagery. The first stanza paints a picture for the reader of how the fruits look in lines 1 and 2, “Bananas ripe and green, and ginger-root, /Cocoa in pods and alligator pears.” Those lines are very descriptive, and allow the reader to picture exactly how the fruit looks. There is also imagery in the second stanza when the speaker describes his homeland. There is an example of alliteration being used in the first stanza; the letter “p” starts four words, and there is also repetition of the consonant sounds “g” and “r.” These consonants all have a “crunchy” sound, which helps represent the fruit.

The theme for this poem was sadness. McKay did a masterful job of using the first two stanzas to help the reader understand the wonderful memories that he had etched into his mind of his homeland. It allowed the reader to fully comprehend the depth and scope of the grief and longing he felt in the last stanza.