Courtney for 9/8

September 6th, 2009

When Whitman writes about nature, he notices every detail.  He reveals the majesty in the simplest of things.  Likewise, when he writes about the city, he seems to study every individual.  His observations reveal to the reader something familiar, but in an illuminated way.  The America that Whitman saw in the bustling crowds of New York City was in its earliest stages, when what it meant to be an American was not yet defined. 

Whitman looked out over the horizon and saw limitless possibilities.  In “Song of the Open Road,” he makes it clear that men and women are capable of nearly anything.  He encourages people to be strong, healthy, and brave.  The essence of America is the land.  Throughout all the differences that separate people, their tie to the land is one thing that holds everyone together.  I feel more “American” when I’m travelling around the country, meeting new people and experiencing new things.  Whitman speaks to these experiences and the importance of roaming around and connecting with the country.

Whitman speaks of the contradictions within himself.  He seems perhaps overly aware of all the different people battling within him.   Likewise, the blossoming America that spread before Whitman was one that was filled with different people all struggling to assert their own identity into the vastness.  It is this commonality that I notice most in these poems that seek to define a thread that bonds us.

It is also clear that Whitman believes that all men and women have the capacity for greatness.  In order for a community to thrive, all people must work together in equality.  In Song of the Broad-Axe, he describes what will make a city great.  Ironically, what he describes is a place where the people challenge the government and learn early to depend on themselves.  This juxtaposition is a vital part of what makes America unique.

            “Leaves of Grass” is a vital part of the American Literature cannon.  It is an American novel in that it explicitly investigates what it means to be American.  At the time that it was penned, America was a jumble of people struggling to find a common identity.  Whitman addressed this not as a weakness, but as a strength.  He understood that the journey is a vital step.  Just as he emphasized the journey as an important part of the process of self-realization, he also saw that with time, America would fourish.

2 Responses to “Courtney for 9/8”

  1. Avatar of chelseanewnam chelseanewnam on September 7, 2009 1:09 pm

    Courtney, I think that Whitman and the ‘American experience’ is an interesting topic to address. So many American writers across time have been grappling with this and, more specifically, with attempting to define what it means to be an American in the face of its unending “open road” of possibilities. I agree with you that the American people are, at a minimum, united by the land; each individual brings unique differences to the country, but the one thing that unifies them is land. Whitman even says in “Song of the Open Road,” “Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons, / It is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the / earth” (300). It is as if he is making the claim that the closer and more intimate one is with the land, the more enlightened and well-off he or she will be. Whitman seems to be making the argument that the more people let go of the lavish extravagances and preconceived differences between them, the more satisfied they will be with America and with themselves.

  2. Avatar of meghanedwards meghanedwards on September 7, 2009 6:33 pm


    I really enjoyed your point about the uniqueness of the American people challenging the government. I think too, that perhaps part of the uniqueness of Whitman’s America was that, not only can we challenge and change it, but that it was put in place specifically to work for the common man. In “Song of the Broad-Axe,” he says that “the citizen is always the head and ideal, and President,/Mayor, Governor and what not, are agents for pay” (335). He expresses similar ideas in “Song of Occupations,” reminding the reader that the officials are workers too, and are not necessarily above the blue-collared workers. I think that this sense of classlessness also unites the American people. We are all working for one another.

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