May 5, 2012
A Midnight Woman to the Bobby by Claude McKay
Claude McKay was a Jamaican-American writer during the period of the Harlem Renaissance. He was noted as a prominent poet during a time in which racism was strongly prevalent in America. We can see how he is working against racism through the poem, “A Midnight Women to the Bobby”.
In reference to the visual aids such as mango trees, coca trees, bread-fruit, and the description of a “panish town”, we can make the assumption that the poem takes place in Jamaica. We can also sense this through the harsh dialect in which the poem is written. In some stanzas of the poem the dialect is so strong that one may need to read it aloud for coherence. McKay purposely uses this dialect to confirm the way in which white people view black people based upon the shallow judgement of speech. Back then the whites surely used this different speech pattern as an excuse to rationalize the racial stigmas of intelligence and physical appearance. However, McKay tries to refute this stereotype of inferior intellect by using perfect Shakespearean form through iambic pentameter. In other words, he is being sneaky by saying that there is something to be gained by not writing in perfect English because we usually expect structured poetry to use equally structured language. The structure of the poem consists of 11 rhymed quatrains composed of 4 line stanzas, each with an AABBCDDEE rhyme scheme. Every line has eight syllables as well.
In the poem, the speaker of the poem (a prostitute) calls out a young native policeman for attempting to arrest her for prostitution. She is angered by this because he has assaulted her sexually before and doesn’t like the fact that she is being called out for prostitution by one of her own kind. This brings up the idea of how colonial power can pit class against each other by unfortunate circumstances. She taunts the young bobby in lines (19-20) for turning to the British imposed force to run away from poverty. The line says, “Cos you wear Mis’r Koshaw cloe’es/You t’ink say you’s de only man.” Clearly, the prostitute has no respect for a black man that covers his identity by wearing a white man’s uniform. We know this man is a native Jamaican bobby from the line, “You come from mountain naked-‘kin” and “Ko ‘pon you’ jam samplatta nose”. McKay makes these distinguishing references so the reader knows it is a Jamaican bobby rather than a British one because at the time Jamaica was being colonized by the British. From start to finish she keeps up with the stereotypical insults. She starts with, “No palm me up, you dutty brute, You’ jam mount’ mash like ripe bread-fruit”. Meaning, “don’t put your dirty hands on me that reek of alcohol”. The fruit references alcohol because the “bread fruit” being described is a bulbous fruit that is fermented to make alcohol. She continues to mock his authority by laughing at the policeman when he tries to arrest her. This is demonstrated through the line, “Say wha’?-‘res’ me?-you go to hell! You t’ink Judge don’t know unno well?”. She basically tells him that, if taken to court, his word will have no more credibility than hers. And in the eyes of the authority she considers him an equal to her low economic status.