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The treatment done to the African man is firstly seen through biblical imageries the poet pictures in order to elevate the man at the same level of God’s Son. Indeed, McKay uses the lexical field of religion in the first two lines: ‘spirit’, ‘ascended’, ‘high heaven’ (1), ‘father’ (2). The poet accompanies the lexical field with the alliteration of the /s/ sound when he is talking about the spirit of the African man joining paradise: ‘His spirit is smoke ascended to high heaven’ (1).
By doing so, he emphasizes the spirit of the black man being at the centre of the poem.
Plus, the biblical reference helps McKay to identify the dead man through the figure of Jesus a figure who has been murdered brutally as well. The poet puts a lot of importance in the imageries, because it reinforces the poignant subject of the unjust mistreatment of the black community. The second imagery is a double-sensed symbol and comes in the second quatrain of the poem.
It pictures the guiding star that provided first safety and hope of escape for black people who wanted to flee from the abuse of the American people, but then let them down to their unlucky faith. This point can be seen through the utilisation of contradictory words of hope, ‘bright and solitary star / Perchance the one that ever guided him’ (5-6), but also abandonment, ‘Yet gave him up at last to Fate’s wild whim’ (7). This is interesting to see that this is the only imagery written in parenthesis.
If we look carefully in this quatrain, we can see that the rhyme scheme is presented as CDDC. MacKay has structured it as to separate the lines in two couples; on one hand the parenthesis with ‘him’ and ‘whim’ that marks a unity, and on the other, the lines 5 and 8 with ‘star’ and ‘char’. The sense of this quatrain can change if the parenthesis is removed from the poem. Indeed, the star can represent the guide of the black folk to a freedom with the parenthesis, but it can also represent the symbolic figure of the man who is ‘hung pitifully o’er the swinging char’ (8) without it. By doing so, MacKay wants to focus the symbolic image of the man to rely the condition of one man representing the whole community enduring the same faith as him.
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