Paired Texts > If We Must Die
by Claude McKay
We've identified these texts as great options for text pairings based on similar themes, literary devices, topic, or writing style. Supplement your lesson with one or more of these options and challenge students to compare and contrast the texts. To assign a paired text, click on the text to go to its page and click the "Assign Text" button there.
To An Athlete Dying YoungA. E. Housman
Alfred Edward Housman (1859-1936) was an English poet and classical scholar. Housman wrote the elegy "To an Athlete Dying Young" in 1896, following the death of his close friend, Adalbert Jackson. In this poem, the speaker addresses an elegy to a champion runner who died at the height of his physical prime.Pair “To an Athlete Dying Young” with “If We Must Die” and ask students to compare the speaker’s point of view and tone in each.
An ObstacleCharlotte Perkins Gilman
In Charlotte Perkins Gilman's poem "An Obstacle," she urges us to remain strong when facing everyday obstacles. Gilman was writing as a feminist during a time when it was not socially acceptable to identify as such.Pair “If We Must Die” with “An Obstacle” to spark a discussion about life, death, and resilience.
The Harlem RenaissanceJessica McBirney
In the informational text "The Harlem Renaissance," Jessica McBirney discusses how the movement developed and the effect it had on America.Pair “If We Must Die” with “The Harlem Renaissance” and ask students to discuss the contributions of the Harlem Renaissance poet to addressing the experiences of African Americans. Do you agree with the interpretation of the poem made by the author of “The Harlem Renaissance?” How does the poem help establish an identity for African Americans?
Letter from Birmingham JailDr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
In the famous "Letter from Birmingham Jail," Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., outlines his nonviolence approach to addressing injustice while responding to criticism.Pair “Letter from Birmingham Jail” and “We Wear the Mask” and ask students to compare how both texts present the emotions of African Americans who experienced segregation and discrimination in America. How does King’s letter describe the need to “wear the mask”? Consider the tone of each text and to what extent each conveys optimism and hope for the future.
SpunkZora Neale Hurston
In this short story, a man seeks revenge when he loses his wife to another. Written during the Harlem Renaissance, "Spunk" offers an exploration of African American culture and features the use of a distinctive southern dialect.Pair “If We Must Die” with “Spunk” and ask students to discuss the theme of facing death. Compare the message of McKay’s speaker to the way Joe faces his death in “Spunk.” How do students think McKay’s speaker would feel about Joe’s death? Does Joe “nobly die”? Why or why not? How do both texts represent the characteristics of Harlem Renaissance literature?
Attack on Fort Sumter Marked Start of WarCarolyn Reeder
In the informational text "Attack on Fort Sumter Marked Start of War," Carolyn Reeder discusses the South's first attack on the North that resulted in the beginning of the Civil War.Pair “If We Must Die” with “Attack on Fort Sumter Marked Start of War” to provide students with insight into how the Union soldiers in Fort Sumter may have felt during the attack. How is the situation described in the poem similar to the situation faced by the Union soldiers who were in Fort Sumter during the attack? How is it different? Were the Union soldiers in Fort Sumter brave like the speaker in the poem?
MonkeymanWalter Dean Myers
In "Monkeyman," a teenager watches his friend stand up to a neighborhood gang and learns a powerful lesson about courage.Pair “If We Must Die” with “Monkeyman” and ask students to discuss how the speaker in the poem is similar to Monkeyman. Do you think Monkeyman would agree with the message of this poem?
Harvey Milk Lives!Thomas Pool
In "Harvey Milk Lives!", Thomas Pool describes the life and career of Harvey Milk, a gay rights activist and politician, who continues to inspire people to fight for equal rights.Pair “If We Must Die” with “Harvey Milk Lives!” to provide students with a poem by Claude McKay about facing death with dignity. Harvey Milk was well aware that he might be assassinated as an openly gay politician, yet he continued to be honest with his identity and beliefs. How did Milk die “fighting back” as McKay words it in the final line of his poem? Do students think Milk died in vain? Why or why not?
Winston Churchill's "Never Give In" SpeechPrime Minister Winston Churchill
Winston Churchill's speech "Never Give In," discusses the recent successes of the United Kingdom in World War II.Pair “If We Must Die” with “Winston Churchill's "Never Give In’ Speech" and ask students to discuss the common ideas of the two texts. How does Claude McKay’s approach overcoming obstacles compare to Winston Churchill’s opinions?
"We Shall Overcome" SpeechPresident Lyndon B. Johnson
This rousing speech by President Lyndon B. Johnson was delivered right after civil rights protesters were brutally beaten on "Bloody Sunday." This speech is considered one of the best presidential speeches in history, and eventually led to The Voting Rights Act of 1965.Pair “If We Must Die” with “'We Shall Overcome' Speech” to spark a discussion about discrimination, courage, and resilience.