Old Aesthetics, New Ethics

Claude McKay’s Socially Engaged (Proletarian) Sonnets


  • Lilijana Burcar University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts, Slovenia




Claude McKay, sonnet, class struggle, capitalism, racism


The depiction of the class struggle features prominently in the American canon of the first half of the 20th century. However, the emphasis has been almost exclusively on prose fiction to the exclusion of the works of poets such as Claude McKay, one of the central figures of the early Harlem Renaissance and the leading figure among socially engaged English-speaking poets at the time. The article redresses this imbalance by drawing attention to McKay’s socially engaged sonnets, which helped to expand the horizons and culturally empower the exploited poor in America (and by extension the proletariat in England) to resist and overcome racist ideology in their common struggle for universal social justice. McKay makes use of a traditional, highly aestheticized sonnet form, while giving it a new ethical premise and fresh impetus.


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How to Cite

Burcar, L. (2023). Old Aesthetics, New Ethics: Claude McKay’s Socially Engaged (Proletarian) Sonnets. Acta Neophilologica, 56(1-2), 91–106. https://doi.org/10.4312/an.56.1-2.91-106



From Ethical Aspects of Literature to Literary Historical Studies in an Intercultural Context