Sunday, January 20, 2008

Musings on Whitman's Ideals

In 1881 Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” was firmly titled. The epic poem addresses the issue of democracy. The Webster’s New Universal Unabridged Dictionary defines democracy as “the acceptance and practice of the principle of equality of rights, opportunity, and treatment; lack of snobbery; as, there is real ‘democracy’ in this school.” Whitman, in Song of Myself, writes of this democracy.
Whitman points out that equality is essential in Americans. He states, “And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man”(line 427). He seems to say that gender should not dictate superiority, “And that all men ever born are also my brothers… and the/women my sisters and lovers”(line 85-6). He means that everyone has a commonality of experience on the earth. The sights, sounds and workings of nature are there for everyone despite social status, intelligence or economic status.
Although there are laws, Whitman feels it is essential to allow humane treatment to override obeying certain policies. For example, The Fugitive Slave Act required that northerners recapture runaway slaves; however, Whitman overlooks this law in favor of what is humane. He assists a fugitive slave, gives him food, shelter and medical care before sending him on his way. “He staid with me a week before he was recuperated and passed north”(line 189). He refuses to compromise his principles of American freedom.
As it follows, Whitman speaks of taking his place in this world. He disagrees with having contempt for people of lower status. He states how satisfying it is that an illiterate person could think less of a learned person who lacks standards. He believes in stepping aside and sharing the earth with his fellow Americans, “And am not stuck up, and am in my place”(line 349). In so doing, everyone and everything becomes something better.
Whitman wants unity, democracy, a true American spirit.

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