Home To Harlem: Important quotes with page numbers
“Why did I want to mix mahself up in a white folk’s war? It ain’t ever was any of black folks’ affair. ”(Chapter 1, Page 8)
This quote reflects Jake’s rationale for deserting the military and is one of many moments when he becomes disillusioned with his idealized notions of life. This quote also underscores the irony of African-American soldiers’ attempts to fight abroad for democracy while lacking freedom at home. The segregated military is just one more example of the rottenness and hypocrisy of civilization.
“All alongshore for me now. No more fooling with the sea. Same old New York. Everybody dashing around like crazy […] Same old New York. But ofay faces am different from those across the pond. Sure they is. Stiffer. Tighter. Yes, they is that. But the sun does better over here than there. ” (Chapter 3, Page 25)
One of the effects of travel abroad for Jake is his much broader perspective on race and America. Jake’s experience abroad is notable because it allowed him to engage socially with whites in ways that were less racially oppressive. Jake is nevertheless glad to return home because it connects him to other African Americans.
“Take me back to the Baltimore tonight. I ain’t gwine to know no peace till I lay these hands on mah tantalizing brown again. ” (Chapter 3, Page 27)
From the moment Jake discovers Felice has returned his money to him, he becomes obsessed with finding her again. However, he doesn’t even know her name, a measure of how much his ideas about her represent an idealization of black womanhood.
“The Congo was a real throbbing little Africa in New York. ” (Chapter 4, Page 29)
The music of Harlem and encounters between African Americans and black immigrants from abroad are most present in the cabarets.
The Congo is “a little Africa” because it serves as a meeting ground for these groups and because its music is the deepest connection between African and African-American culture.
“Ain’t no peace on earth with the womens and there ain’t no life anywhere without them. ” (Chapter 4, Page 34)
This quote embodies the attitude of many of the male characters in the novel towards women. While women are seen as essential to life, they are portrayed as petulant, petty people who egg men on to violence and use sex to exercise control over men. This somewhat misogynistic perspective on women would have been in keeping with prevailing attitudes of the day.
“You might live your life in many black belts and arrive at the conclusion that there was no such thing as a typical Negro—no minstrel coon off the stage, no Thomas Nelson Page’s nigger, no Octavus Roy Cohen’s porter, no lineal descendent of Uncle Tom. Then one day your theory may be upset through meeting with a type by far more perfect than any created counterpart. ” (Chapter 6, Pages 63-64)
One of the concerns of the novel is the representation of black archetypes, especially those associated with Harlem. The narrator describes Strawberry Lips in this quote. Although many African American writers went to great efforts to avoid including negative stereotypes of African Americans in their work, this quote is just one of many instances in which McKay rejects this pressure and paints the stereotype as having some basis in reality.
“But women were so realistic and straightgoing. They were the real controlling force in life […] Men fought, hurt, wounded, killed each other.
Womenegged them on or denounced them. Victims of sex, the men seemed foolish, ape-like blunderer dub their pools of blood. Didn’t know what they were fighting for, except it was to gratify some vague feeling about women […] Jake’s thoughts went roaming after his little lost brown of the Baltimore. The difference! ” (Chapter 6, Page 70)
This quote represents Jake’s disgust with women and the control they exercise over men. It also reflects his belief that Felice is somehow different from all other women.
“It’s the same life even ef they drink champagne and we drink gin. ” (Chapter 6, Page 87)
This is the last word on Ginhead Susy and Ms. Curdy’s discussion of the sameness of poor people and affluent people, and black people and white people. Because of their experiences asservants or sex workers, the two women’s cynical takes on sex and race seem to be well-founded.
“This here Harlem is a stinking sink of iniquity. Nigger hell! […] Take me away from it. ” (Chapter 7,Page 99)
These words are spoken by Susy when she discovers Zeddy with another woman. That she says this is ironic considering that her behavior is also scandalous.
The description of Harlem as a hell also reflects the perspective of conservative African Americans who saw Harlem and cities in general not as zones of freedom for African Americans but as the equivalent of Babylon in the Bible, a place that leads the faithful into temptation and destruction.
“Rose’s room to him was like any ordinary lodging in Harlem. While the room of his little lost brown was lived in his mind ahighly magnified affair: a bed of gold, fresh, white linen, a magic carpet, all bathed in the rarest perfume […] Rose’s perfume made his nose itch. It was rank. ” (Chapter 9, Page 114)
Because he is caught up in his fantasy of life with Felice, Jake is unable to engage emotionally with Rose. This quote reflects his tendency to idealize things despite the reality facing him.
“They were all chain-ganged together and he counted as one link. Yet he loathed every soul in that great barrack room, except Jake. Race […] Why should he have and love a race? ”(Chapter 11, Page 153)
Ray, coming from another country, culture, and linguistic background, feels a sense of alienation from the African Americans with whom he works on the train.
His feeling of disgust in this moment shows that he is unable to accept the constraints of race that are imposed upon him as a black person in America.
“Ray felt that as he was conscious of being black and impotent, so correspondingly, each marine down in Hayti must be conscious of being white and powerful. What a unique feeling of confidence about life the typical white youth of his age must have! Knowing that his skin was a passport to glory […] All perfect Occidentals and investors in that grand business called civilization. ” (Chapter 11, Page 154)
Another source of Ray’s bitterness is the U. S. ’s imperialistic foray into his native country of Haiti. For him, the invasion represents white supremacy writ large. Because Ray comes from a black majority culture, he feels particularly indignant about the unearned power of whites. His use of the metaphor—whites as investors and Western civilization as a business—also represents his rejection of the materialism that he sees as a corrupting force in Western culture.
“We may all be niggers aw’right, but we ain’t nonetall all the same. ” (Chapter 11, Page 159)
Although Ray frequently imagines that Jake is too unsophisticated to understand the suffering he experiences, in this quote spoken shortly after Ray’s overdose, Jake demonstrates that he understands Ray’s predicament quite well. Jake, unlike even his African-American peers, rejects the idea that African Americans are all the same.
“Obliterated from their memories the sewer-incident of the moment before […] Feeding, feeding, feeding. ”(Chapter 12, Page 173)
Ray is disgusted by the way his black co-workers seem to forget all about the chef’s ill treatment and threat to spit in their food once the chef cooks them a good meal.
Here and elsewhere, the language used to describe African Americans, especially those who blindly accept what life presents them, calls on language usually reserved for animals.
“The notes were naked acute alert. Like black youth burning naked in the bush. Love in the deep heart of the jungle […] The sharp spring of a leopard from a leafy limb…. Tum-tum…. tum-tum…. Black lovers of life caught up in their own free native rhythm, threaded to a remote scarce remembered past […] celebrating […] in a house in Fifteenth Street, Philadelphia. ” (Chapter 13, Pages 196-197)
McKay describes jazz in terms that show the clear link between it and the African cultures of origin for African Americans. The language also reflects his use of the conventions of literary primitivism to represent African Americans: jazz reflects African Americans’ supposedly closer connection to their own bodies and sensuality.
“But there’s something marvelous about meeting people for a little while and serving them and never seeing them again. It’s romantic You don’t have that awful personal everyday contact that domestic workers have to get to get along with.
If I was a man, and had to be in service, I wouldn’t want better than a railroad. ” (Chapter 14, Pages 210-211)
Although the novel mostly dwells on the masculine desire for freedom and autonomy, this quote by Agatha, Ray’s girlfriend, makes it clear that African American women also had such aspirations. The jobs available to African American women were ones in which they were forced to deal with an at times suffocating and dehumanizing intimacy with the whites who employed them.
“He had lived on that brilliant manna that fell like a flame-fall from those burning stars. Then came the great mass carnage in Europe and the great mass revolution in Russia. Ray was not prophetic-minded enough to define the total evil that the one had wrought and the total splendor of the other. But […] he had perception enough to realize that he had lived over the end of an era. And he also realized his spiritual masters had not crossed with him. ” (Chapter 15,Pages 225-226)
Ray, like many artists and intellectuals of the period, is forced to confront the disruption of the status quo and challenge to Western values posed by the events referenced in the quote.
“Could he create out of the fertile reality around him? Of Jake nosing through life, a handsome hound, quick to snap up any tempting morsel of a poisoned meat thrown carelessly on the pavement? ” (Chapter 15, Pages 228-229)
As an artist, Ray is both intrigued and challenged by the possibility of creating a new art that more realistically represents life, especially the lives of the underclass. This quote shows his admiration for Jake but also his willingness to judge Jake’s lifestyle choices.
“We ought to get something new, we Negroes. But we get our education like—like our houses. When the whites move out, we move in and take possession of the old dead stuff.
Dead stuff this age has no use for […] And civilization is rotten. We are all rotten who are touched by it. ” (Chapter 16, Page 243)
The idea of newness or renovation is an important theme in both modernism and the Harlem Renaissance, which was shaped by the desire to find new modes of representation. Ray expounds on one of the tenets of modernism, namely that Western civilization is so corrupt it should be rejected.
“That was the key to him and his race. That strange, child-like capacity for wistfulness-and-laughter […] No wonder the whites, after five centuries of contact, could not understand his race.
How could they when every instinct of comprehension had been cultivated out of them? No wonder they hated them, when out of their melancholy environment the blacks could create mad, contagious music and high laughter. ” (Chapter 18, Pages 266-267)
This representation of African Americans and whites reflects the primitivist idea that African Americans’ simplicity and capacity for enjoyment made them psychologically healthier than whites, whose close associations with civilization made for sterile imaginations.
“Like a black Pan out of the woods Jake looked into Ray’s eyes with frank savage affection, and Billy Biasse exclaimed: ‘Lawdy in heaben! A l’il foreign booze turn you all soft? ’” (Chapter 18, Page 272)
In Western culture, Pan is associated with nature, spring, fertility, and wild celebration—all of which are central to Jake’ life as well. This scene also reflects the erotic charge that exists between Jake and Ray, and it takes Billy, a gay man, to both name and police the undercurrent in the relationship between the two men.
“‘It’s the same ole life everywhere,’ responded Jake. ‘In white man’s town or nigger town. Same bloody sweet life across the pond…. Don’ttell me about cut-thwoat niggers in Harlem. The whole wul’ is boody-crazy. ’” (Chapter 19, Page 285)
Although Jake starts the novel with an idealistic notion of Harlem as a unique place in the world, by the end of the novel, he has come to realize that Harlemites arejust as bound as other people by irrational drives such as sex and violence. He no longer sees Harlem as a black utopia.
“But groups of loud-laughing-and-acting black swains and their sweethearts had started using the block for their afternoon promenade. That was the limit: the desecrating of that atmosphere by black love in the very shadow of the gray, gaunt Protestant church! Ancient Respectability was getting ready to flee. ” (Chapter 20, Page 301)
This description of the growth of Harlem reflects the voice of whites who engage in white flight when confronted with African Americans. The open display of “black love” is particularly offensive to their ideas about respectability and morality. McKay’s dramatic representation in this passage also serves as a rejection of black respectability as an appropriate aspiration for African Americans.
Finally, the passage highlights the street as an important site for the performance of modern African American identity.
“Why should love cause terror? […] Yet here he was caught in the thing he despised so thoroughly […] Brest, London, and his America. ” (Chapter 21, Page 328)
This is Jake’s epiphany about the sameness of human nature regardless of geography, and his disgust with himself as he realizes that he has allowed himself to be consumed by violence and sexual jealousy as a result of his sexual and romantic connection with Felice. The encounter with Zeddy shatters his idealization of Felice.
“Anyhow, I’m bound for Chicago. ” (Chapter 21, Page 339)
The novel closes with Jake’s decision to travel again, this time on the move toward Chicago, another important destination for African Americans during the Great Migration. In this particular moment, he has made the decision to go even if he can’t find Felice. Movement and travel, rather than rootedness in a particular place, are confirmed as important grounds for his identity.