Poetic Motifs: The Concept of Home in Claude McKay's "The Tropics of New York"

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SWBAT analyze how the concept of "home" develops over the course of Claude McKay's poem, "The Tropics of New York," and the play, "A Raisin in the Sun," through poetic explication and discussion.

Big Idea

"Home, let me come home/Home is wherever I'm with you" -Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes

Intro & Welcome: It's Chocolate Chip Day!

3 minutes

We open class with a welcome to "Chocolate Chip Day," and a brief discussion over soft (a la "Keebler Soft Batch") versus crispy (a la "Chips Ahoy") chocolate chip cookies. As with all Daily Holidays, my objective is to build a sense of community, class identity, and trust in the classroom as they students share their ideas and react to each other. 

Interpreting Imagery: Claude McKay's "The Tropics of New York"

45 minutes

I provide students with some biographical information on the poet, Claude McKay, especially focusing on his Jamaican heritage and McKay's writing "on a variety of subjects, from his Jamaican homeland to romantic love, with a use of passionate language." That central idea of passion for a "home" will fuel our look at the poem and comparison to the play.  

Students are provided with Harlem Renaissance Poetry Study Guide, featuring poetry from Claude McKay and Langston Hughes. Today, we focus on "The Tropics of New York," asking students to listen to a reading by Proessor Hans Ostrom (Professor of African American Studies at University of Puget Sound). 


Students are asked to evaluate how Ostrom's performance portrays the pacing of the poem  (links among ideas, word choice, points of emphasis), and the tone used (SL.11-12.3). (We are addressing an 11-12 band standard because of the focus on the performance, especially tone). 

We then discuss the questions on the study guide. Each question reinforces ideas that we have addressed in class previously:

Knowledge of the speaker of the poem (see Lessons: "Choosing Words Carefully: Ann Bradsteet's Diction and Style" and "Emily Dickinson: Simplicity of Language--A Life in Isolation"), and how the speaker is reaveled over the course of the poem and develops the idea of "home"/being homesick (RL.9-10.3).

Students revisit figurative and poetic language in the form of similes, parallel structure, and cataloging; see Lessons: "Emily Dickinson: Simplicity of Language--A Life in Isolation" and "Free Verse & Figurative Language: Understanding Whitman's Use of Metaphor") in order to analyze to the cumulative impact of specific word choices on meaning and tone (RL.9-10.4).

As we address the use of cataloging in the first stanza, I project the image of tropical fruit to help students visualize the language that appeals to their senses. 

To extend their learning, students are asked to track and analyze the representation of the subject of "home" as it appears in both the poem and the play (RL.9-10.7) as they read. 


Two-Minute Warning: Wrap-Up & Reminders

2 minutes

With two minutes remaining, students are reminded to bring their copies of "A Raisin in the Sun" tomorrow, as we will begin reading the play in class.  Additionally, students are reminded to read the biography of Lorraine Hansberry from the "One Book, One Chicago" program. I also offer an opportunity to ask any questions students may have regarding their upcoming final exam.