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If We Must Die

If We Must Die


by Claude McKay

If We Must Die Analysis

Symbols, Imagery, Wordplay

Welcome to the land of symbols, imagery, and wordplay. Before you travel any further, please know that there may be some thorny academic terminology ahead. Never fear, Shmoop is here. Check out our...

Form and Meter

There are lots of different ways to write a sonnet, which is basically just a particular kind of short poem. Shakespeare's sonnets have a very specific form, which McKay borrowed in "If We Must Die...


Just about every modern movie with a battle scene includes a leader who delivers a pre-battle speech inspiring and empowering his people to persevere and fight. You've seen it in everything from Br...


When we read this poem, we picture a crowd of exhausted soldiers sitting on the ground. Their arms rest on their knees; their heads hang low. After a moment of depressing silence, out from the sold...

Sound Check

Dramatic pauses are key here and in the poem. It's an inspiring call to action. You should definitely check out the audio recording of McKay reading the poem in his Jamaican accent. McKay used to w...

What's Up With the Title?

The clause "If we must die" is repeated twice in the poem, so it's a natural choice for a title. The title and the repeated clauses drive home the desperation of the situation. There is no choice f...

Calling Card

McKay's sonnets are very similar to Countee Cullen's ballads. Both poets took traditional, English poetic forms and injected them with a mix of universal themes and very specific racial tensions. I...


This one isn't a real toughie. Though the slightly old-fashioned language could slow an inexperienced reader down, it's written to inspire readers, not to confuse them.

Brain Snacks

Sex Rating

There's no steaminess in this poem to speak of, though if this poem were a movie, definite hints of violence might lead to a rating around PG or R.

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