This article argues that Romance in Marseille marks a significant shift in Claude McKay’s approach to primitivism, one that necessitates a reconsideration of his reputation—based on his two novels of the late 1920s—as perhaps the Harlem Renaissance’s foremost proponent of “strategic primitivism.” Tracing the development of McKay’s primitivism from Home to Harlem (1928) and Banjo (1929) to his most recently published novel, this essay suggests an evolution along philosophical, political, and stylistic lines. Romance in Marseille deconstructs the primitive/civilized binary, forgoing the antiracist potentialities of primitivism for the utopian possibilities of international Marxism, interracial collaboration and queer love.

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