Claude McKay’s Harlem Dancer is a poem filled with emotions that make the poem difficult to ascribe just one. Some may argue that it is hollow because the dancer is showing a carefree, happy attitude, though the author states that her smiles are false, or fake. Some may argue that it has a feeling of detachment because in her mind she is not where her body says she is at emotionally. There are many different emotions that this poem can cause the reader to feel, I will not argue against those emotions because those are the emotions that readers get for various reasons which make poetry so great.
The emotion that resonates with when I read this poem is that of remorse. You may be scratching your head at this particular emotion and not see where I can come up with such a notion. Good news! I will tell you. It all comes down to the last two lines. “Looking at her falsely-smiling face, I knew her self was not in that strange place” The entire poem paints the picture that this woman is the center of the party. People are admiring her dancing and singing. She looks so happy, yet she is not there in her mind. I see a woman who deeply troubled, maybe her move to Harlem did not bring the happiness she expected, maybe she lost a loved one, maybe she just does not like the people in her neighborhood, either way she is clearly troubled or saddened by something. You are still thinking “Where do you get remorse from?”
Have you ever been in a time of life where you put on mask? The world around you is falling apart, nothing is going right, you feel emotionally or physically terrible and you just want to let someone know. You want someone to help share this burden that you carry. When that friend or family member comes that you can trust and they ask you how everything is going and you respond with a smile and a lie of an answer such as, “God is good and I am having a great day.” Or maybe the response is a simple “I’m fine.” Losing your opportunity to let someone know what is happening, to let someone help you carry the burden that is weighing you down usually does not put a smile on one’s face and have them walk away rejoicing the fact that they still feel alone in their struggles. One usually feels remorse that they did not speak truthfully, they lost the chance to unload. This is what I see in the Harlem Dancer, a woman puts on a mask and does not share her true feelings, and this makes her feel horrible. I am sure she danced well though.
Priscilla Lee’s poem Family Dinner describes a girl who is the complete opposite of the Harlem Dancer. She is very open about her feelings and the feelings others in her family have for her. She hides nothing. Nothing. Her family does not like her yet she still dines with them for the holidays. She deals with her life, she does not hide what she feels or thinks.