Analysis of ¶The Harlem Dancer·

Analysed by LR

THE HARLEM DANCER
by: Claude McKay (1890-1948)

Poem can be viewed on the internet.

Quatrain One

The words ³applauding youths´ makes one think of innocence, happiness, gaiety, and fun, not of children but of young adults. This thought changes when continuing to reading the end of the first line; µlaughed with young prostitutes¶. The idea of innocence diminishes and thoughts of sex, misconduct, the lower classes and sleazy atmospheres enters one¶s mind. µYoung prostitutes¶ is a grim statement of girls recently making a commitment to a life in the lower sections of society. Being young means the hope of escaping or leaving that lifestyle. However a little more quality is gained from these young prostitutes since they are still in possession of their beauty, figures and spirits. These young laughing prostitutes may not realize that their earnings would dwindle with the course of time. The µapplauding youths¶ in conjunction with the µyoung prostitutes¶ describes the manners of a certain class not normally seen in brothels, as compared to the regular conduct in µstrip joints¶ such as loud jeering, whistling and catcalls.

Line two in the poem states that the youths are appreciative of watching someone who has a perfect figure who can easily be seen because she is dressed scantily or is wearing transparent clothing or is topless. They applaud her for this, viewing her perfect body as a work of art. The youths not only applaud but laugh at the movements her topless body makes as she sways.

for this is not the normal description used for any female working in a nightclub. The first quatrain introduces the setting of the poem. forcibly or not.The description of her voice to the µsound of blended flutes¶ depicts her voice as one that is pleasing to hear. her occupation and her audience. a description of her. µBlack players¶ are not limited to seedy strip joints and brothels and that is only a small possibly hidden part of their society and culture. She is aware of her abilities. The term µblended flutes¶ delivers a different meaning when related to µblack players¶ and µpicnic day¶ from the last line of the first quatrain. A µpicnic day¶ represents fun. Quatrain Two The words µgraceful and calm¶ contrast with µhalf-clothed body sway¶. carefree attitudes and ignorance. µBlended flutes¶ in relation to these words shows that this is not the normal sound from a Harlem dancer and puts a question mark on her placement in her present situation. . the main character. happiness. Her portrayal of someone who is graceful and calm puts her in a different class above the rest of the prostitutes. The normal description of a dancer who sways and is semi-nude is sensual and seductive. purity and clean recreational togetherness. loose fitting and transparent apparel during her performance. Being able to perform µgracefully and calm¶ while displaying her perfect form through her wearing µlight gauze¶ shows that she is not ashamed of what she does. Hence the reason for remaining elegant and composed while wearing. melodious and sounds like a mixture of different accents that come from mixed or exotic ancestry. family. It introduces themes of innocence. talents and her fine figure.

it also relates to Arabic dancers. The words. µMulan¶. The second quatrain describes her ability. powerful imagery of nature but uses the words. She is someone who had to endure struggle and adversity in her life and survived. by the placement of the words in the second to last line. The way her curls fall beautifully on her neck adds to her form. She has not diminished in beauty or glory due to her hardship but has µgrown lovelier¶. The words. µfalsely-smiling face¶. µLuxuriant fell¶ in the third quatrain connects to µgraceful and calm¶ in the second quatrain. which is. voice and sway which connects to her beauty and grace. Although µblack shiny curls¶ suggests the same. where mass migration of Blacks started in the area during the year 1904.The narrator connects her with beautiful. adversity. a class that moves elegantly and unruffled. µLuxuriant¶ denotes a life of luxury that only the privileged could have. although she does not outwardly show whether she endured unscathed or not inwardly. µblack players¶ is used in the last line of the first quatrain. The themes presented in this quatrain are about struggle. Her pride and endurance relates to a line of dialogue by the character µThe Emperor¶ in the 1998 animated movie. µproudlyswaying palm¶ and µstorm¶ to describe her. This shows her as a person who has strong will power and feels pleasurable satisfaction from her dancing. The word µswarthy¶ tells us that her complexion is dark and hints again that she is a coloured person. Quatrain Three The name of the poem says that the dancer is from Harlem. thirteen years before the writing of this poem. . The third hint comes from the first line of the third quatrain. This is a continuation from the first quatrain which concentrated on her physical attributes. pride and emotional strength. morality and endurance. These are two examples that hint to the ethnicity of the dancer. µThe flower that blooms in adversity is the more beautiful of all¶. grace.

The bold-eyed boys depicted here meant that they are young. The girls mentioned in this line would not mean any females that entered the nightclub with the boys. It was probably the tradition of some Harlem dancers to adorn themselves in a coin wrap. not enviously but in admiration. The patrons of this nightclub who could afford wine over rum or alcohol looked on boldly as if they have a right to look as they please unabashedly. coins were pitched at her to show appreciation of her performance and for a continuation and inducement for a more flirtatious act. They could easily pay for her services and probably were of a higher class than her and look boldly or even down at her. The patrons of the nightclub in this poem do not feel for her in a loving way. every curl of her luxuriant hair. They ate up every curve of her body. they wished that they were part of her. the sequins of her scanty dress made clinking appreciative noises that meshed with her dance that added to the hypnotic trance she had over the µbold-eyed boys¶ and µgirls¶. bold-eyed boys¶ as she is a dancer for money. Even the girls looked at her. The boys whether high class or not would not bring their girlfriends to such a seedy place in the presence of youthful and still shapely young prostitutes. This was probably done by the µwine-flushed. µEven the girls devoured her shape¶. It is something that they probably had never seen before and they dared not turn away because they do not want to miss a minute of it. a person that they desire. Their feeling of her is of a more lustful nature. .The µtossing of coins in praise¶ has two meanings in this poem. This is not a person that they admire but a person that they lust after. Firstly. form and grace with admiration and probably wished that they had what this dancer has. Secondly. energetic males on the verge of becoming men who are amazed by what they see because they are probably not experienced with such activities.

she still had to endure working in the nightclub. Rhyming Couplet The dancer was falsely smiling for her audience to untruthfully display pleasure of what she was doing and appreciation for their presence. It would be thought of that her morals would be in question here but her µfalsely smiling face¶ and feelings of displacement in the µstrange place¶ say that she could not do any better at the time. luxury. The dancer is aware of her ancestry and class by growing up. which she regularly sees in the nightclub. promiscuity. in the company of young prostitutes and lustful young boys. . at least for the moment. The Harlem dancer does not have the luxury of innocence and gaiety to let body and mind loose in her performance. carefree attitude like her audience. She is keenly aware of the realities of life. admiration. but the truth was that it was an artificial smile to hide her insincerity. She has to use whatever talent or attribute available to her for her survival. the promiscuity of the patrons with the prostitutes and the admiration they all have for her. poverty and coming of age. ancestry. There are issues of morality which surfaces for her as she dances µhalf-clothed¶ in a nightclub.The third quatrain shows themes of hardship. it was a controlled performance devoid of a happy. beauty. desire/lust. She saw and experienced poverty around her as well as the wealth of the other social classes. to hide her true feelings and the narrator of the poem detected her false smile and realised that she felt uncomfortable in a place that she believed she did not belong to and in her mind was socially beneath her. Even though she had to struggle and face adversity in her life. wealth. class. belonging and dancing in Harlem. Although she danced µgracefully and calm¶.

. growing beauty and inner strength to capitalize on the human desire and lust of her patrons¶ world to endure and survive continuing adversity in her private world. artful dancing.Therefore she uses the luxury of her perfect form.

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