"If We Must Die" is a poem about standing up to injustice. The speaker addresses a group of downtrodden people, a group with whom the speaker identifies and appears to be a member. These individuals have lost their dignity and independence, and they are in despair as they are surrounded by brutal oppressors.
However, even though they are weak and powerless, this audience of slaves decides to fight back against their cruel masters. They plan to kill themselves rather than face another day under tyranny.
The speaker tells them that it is not right to commit suicide because there are more worthy people alive who can carry on without you. However, he also says that if they must die then they should do so with pride.
Thus, the speaker believes that killing yourself would be wrong but that they should die with honor.
The speaker in this poem is one of the characters named in the poem: If. He is speaking to other slaves in their dying moments before they commit suicide.
Their master, Caesar, has ordered that they are all to be killed because they tried to escape. But the slaves believe that it is not right to take their own lives so they decide to fight back.
The poem's premise and form are established in the opening four lines of "If We Must Die." The poem's primary assumption is established in the first four lines: the speaker and his companions are under attack and will perish, and the entity opposing them is powerful and nasty. This means that death is a certainty for the speaker and his comrades.
Furthermore, since the speaker is an individual, the poem assumes that this individual will die. A common misconception about war poems is that they are written by someone who survived the conflict. In fact, most often they are written by people who died or were made prisoner during the war.
Finally, because the speaker comes from a kingdom where honor is important, he feels compelled to give a speech before he dies. Honor is a central concept in medieval English poetry; it usually appears in battle scenes or in lists of deceased heroes. Here, it serves as a reminder that even though the speaker will probably die, he could still be a hero if only he had been better equipped or trained. Thus, honor is linked with survival and bravery.
In conclusion, the opening four lines of "If We Must Die" establish that death is a certainty for the speaker and his comrades, that they are individuals who can be honored after they die, and that honor is linked with survival and bravery.
Instead, it is a poetry of political resistance—a call to oppressed people to oppose their oppressors, even if it means going to war. In general, "If We Must Die" adheres to the structure of a Shakespearean sonnet. It is composed in iambic pentameter and rhymes ABABCDCDEFEFGG, like in Shakespeare. However, instead of fourteen lines, as in most Shakespearean sonnets, this poem has fifteen.
Shakespeare's sonnets are often considered to be poems about unrequited love. While that may have been part of their appeal at the time they were written, many more kinds of poems have been described by later critics as being "about unrequited love". For example, "If We Must Die" describes a battle that includes these elements: death, destruction, bravery, honor, loyalty, courage, resistance to oppression, love between persons of different nations, and sympathy for others. Thus, "If We Must Die" can be regarded as a kind of protest poem.
Shakespeare's sonnets have been influential on many poets since then. These include one titled "If You Could See What I See," which tells of the beauty of the countryside around him and how he feels isolated from it because he is trapped in a war zone. Another poet who was influenced by Shakespeare's sonnets is John Donne.
"If We Must Die," by Claude McKay, is a stirring poem addressed to the black people, urging for courage and the will to fight back against injustice. The speaker opens the poem by addressing his "kinsmen," urging them they must escape the destiny of hogs. He then goes on to express his love for them and asks God to protect them.
The poem is written in the first person singular, indicating that it is a direct address to the audience. However, since it was written during the time of slavery, many believe that it also addresses the author's master.
In conclusion, "If We Must Die" seeks to inspire its listeners with words of hope and encouragement, while at the same time pleading with them to find the strength within themselves to fight against oppression.