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“If We Must Die” by McKay and “The Hurt Locker” by Turner Poems

Contradictions, disagreements, and conflicts play a significant role in people’s lives as they determine defense mechanisms used to protect what is dear to them. Often people apply the analogy of war and fighting to define the meaning of life or its image and main principles. Moreover, there are many different opinions on whether fighting and participating in wars is dignified as people have different experiences. Some perceive survival as a glorious act of protecting their interests and values, while others see combats as a destructive manifestation of brutality that harms human nature. In literature, themes of death, war, violence, and glory are often intersected. I have chosen two poems that display the differences in people’s understanding of war: If We Must Die by Claude McKay and Brian Turner’s The Hurt Locker. While both poems focus on war and combats, their meaning implies different uses of war analogies applied to real life, emphasizing the wide use of war themes in literature.

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Claude McKay’s If We Must Die explores how trying one’s best in life could be equated to not giving up in a fight. The author suggests that anyone deserves a noble death or defeat as long as they show bravery and make every effort so their “precious blood may not be shed in vain” (ll.6,7). Suggesting that there is glory in “dying, but fighting back” explains how the author perceives war as the sublime meaning of life. In order to emphasize the greatness of fighting, the poem resembles an ode featuring different rhetoric devices: enjambment (ll.6,7), the metaphor of comparing inglorious death to “hunted and penned” (l.2) hogs, and apostrophe (l.9). Therefore, the poem uses the glorious death in war analogy to illustrate how people should always protect their interests and values while making every possible effort as if their life depended on it.

On the other hand, Brian Turner’s The Hurt Locker focuses on war and violence’s harm to people’s minds. It suggests that violence leaves “nothing but hurt left” (l.1) in the mind of a soldier. Therefore, the mind of a person who witnessed violence, betrayal, and hopelessness becomes the hurt locker. Compared to McKay’s poem, Turner’s work uses different poetic devices that help the author draw the dark and depressing image of war. To emphasize the dramatic influence of violence on an individual’s mind, the author uses repetitions several times throughout the poem and imagery to illustrate the “rough men” (l.18) affected by the continuous use of violence. The poem suggests that violence changes people, and therefore to stop brutality and prevent people from hurting others, people need to stop fighting.

Analyzing and comparing the use of war themes in the two poems displayed the broad application of war themes in literature and differences in war analogies applied to real life. While some, like Claude McKay, suggest that fighting, protecting important values, and surviving are glorious both in war and real life, in his poem, Turner explained how fighting hurts people and affects their minds. I think that Turner’s poem resonates with the relevant problem of mental health concerns, such as posttraumatic stress disorder, in military service members. I also find that while McKay’s poem features motivational elements, in literature, death in combats and self-devotion are overly glorified, when in real life, there is nothing glorious in death.

Works Cited

McKay, Claude. “If We Must Die.” Poetry Foundation. Web.

Turner, Brian. “The Hurt Locker.” Poetry Foundation, 2005. Web.

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StudyCorgi. (2023, January 22). “If We Must Die” by McKay and “The Hurt Locker” by Turner Poems. Retrieved from https://studycorgi.com/if-we-must-die-by-mckay-and-the-hurt-locker-by-turner-poems/

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StudyCorgi. (2023, January 22). “If We Must Die” by McKay and “The Hurt Locker” by Turner Poems. https://studycorgi.com/if-we-must-die-by-mckay-and-the-hurt-locker-by-turner-poems/

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"“If We Must Die” by McKay and “The Hurt Locker” by Turner Poems." StudyCorgi, 22 Jan. 2023, studycorgi.com/if-we-must-die-by-mckay-and-the-hurt-locker-by-turner-poems/.

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StudyCorgi. "“If We Must Die” by McKay and “The Hurt Locker” by Turner Poems." January 22, 2023. https://studycorgi.com/if-we-must-die-by-mckay-and-the-hurt-locker-by-turner-poems/.

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StudyCorgi. 2023. "“If We Must Die” by McKay and “The Hurt Locker” by Turner Poems." January 22, 2023. https://studycorgi.com/if-we-must-die-by-mckay-and-the-hurt-locker-by-turner-poems/.

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StudyCorgi. (2023) '“If We Must Die” by McKay and “The Hurt Locker” by Turner Poems'. 22 January.

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