Please wait while we process your payment
If you don't see it, please check your spam folder. Sometimes it can end up there.
Don’t have an account?
Create Your Account
Sign up for your FREE 7-day trial
Already have an account? Log in
Choose Your Plan
$4.99/month + tax
$24.99/year + tax
Save over 50% with a SparkNotes PLUS Annual Plan!
for a group?
Get Annual Plans at a discount when you buy 2 or more!
$18.74 /subscription + tax
Subtotal $37.48 + tax
on 2-49 accounts
on 50-99 accounts
Want 100 or more?
for a customized plan.
You'll be billed after your free trial ends.
7-Day Free Trial
Renews October 7, 2023
September 30, 2023
Discounts (applied to next billing)
This is not a valid promo code.
(one code per order)
Annual Plan - Group Discount
SparkNotes Plus subscription is $4.99/month or $24.99/year as selected above. The free trial period is the first 7 days of your subscription. TO CANCEL YOUR SUBSCRIPTION AND AVOID BEING CHARGED, YOU MUST CANCEL BEFORE THE END OF THE FREE TRIAL PERIOD. You may cancel your subscription on your Subscription and Billing page or contact Customer Support at email@example.com. Your subscription will continue automatically once the free trial period is over. Free trial is available to new customers only.
For the next 7 days, you'll have access to awesome PLUS stuff like AP English test prep, No Fear Shakespeare translations and audio, a note-taking tool, personalized dashboard, & much more!
You’ve successfully purchased a group discount. Your group members can use the joining link below to redeem their group membership. You'll also receive an email with the link.
Members will be prompted to log in or create an account to redeem their group membership.
Thanks for creating a SparkNotes account! Continue to start your free trial.
Your PLUS subscription has expired
*See discount terms and conditions.
When McKay wrote “If We Must Die” in 1919, he was likely responding—at least in part—to race-based violence that took place in many American cities during the summer of that year. Following the end of World War I, as veterans returned home and reintegrated into social and economic life, competition for work quickly led to worsening racial tensions. White servicemen resented the fact that many of their jobs had been filled by Black laborers while they were abroad. This resentment reached a tipping point in the summer of 1919, which saw widespread violence targeted against Black people. The violence of this period, which became known as the “Red Summer,” was related to a longer history of lynching in the United States. Lynching, along with other forms of persecution, had terrorized Black communities since the Reconstruction era that followed the end of the American Civil War. The events of the Red Summer were therefore part of a longer history of violent oppression. Against the backdrop of this widespread violence and its roots in anti-Black racism, McKay, who had lived in the United States since 1912, composed “If We Must Die” about refusing the indignity of oppression.
The Harlem Renaissance refers to a major explosion of Black intellectual and artistic activity that erupted in the 1920s. Though centered on the Harlem neighborhood of New York City, the Renaissance had an international reach that witnessed the flowering of Black intellectual discourse, literature, visual art, music, and fashion. All these forms of cultural and artistic production sought to challenge racism, subvert predominant stereotypes, and develop progressive new politics that advanced Black peoples and promoted integration. At the center of the Harlem Renaissance stood the figure known as the New Negro. The “Old Negro” was thought to remain hampered by the historical trauma of slavery. The “New Negro,” by contrast, possessed a renewed sense of self, purpose, and pride. As someone whose sense of pride leads them to refuse an ignoble death at the hands of their oppressors, the speaker of “If We Must Die” nicely exemplifies the figure of the New Negro. Through early poems like this, Claude McKay played an important role in the genesis of the Harlem Renaissance. During his time as a resident of Harlem through the 1920s, McKay wrote several more works about Black life in the neighborhood, including his popular 1928 novel, Home to Harlem.