January 20th, 2012
It’s Only Natural: Racial and Gender Equality in Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” In the opening line of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself,” it becomes immediately evident that his song is not about himself, but about the entire human race: “I celebrate myself, and sing myself, and what I assume you shall assume, / for every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you”. His poem extols the mundane aspects of everyday life that a traditional poet of his day would not have considered worthy of poetic material. The meaning of his poem is best expressed in a quote from the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” (Jefferson, 417). Whitman’s “Song” is influenced heavily by this belief, but also makes its claims even more radical; it is not only a re-declaration that men of all social classes should be held in equal importance—a belief that had been forgotten by many in the restrictive, uptight society of the Victorian era—, but goes beyond the original meaning to extend this equality to minorities and women as well. Whitman glorifies the settings and inhabitants of nature as a model for human society in “Song of Myself,” using it to extend equality and liberty to new groups of people, among them minorities and women. While “Song of Myself” is crammed with significant detail, there are three key episodes that must be examined. The first of these is found in the sixth section of the poem. A child asks the narrator “What is the grass?” and the narrator is forced to explore his own use of symbolism and his inability to break things down to essential principles. The bunches of grass in the child’s hands become a symbol of the regeneration in nature. But they also signify a common material that links disparate people all over the United States together:...
Cited: Reuben, Paul P. "Chapter 2: Thomas Jefferson." PAL: Perspectives in American Literature- A Research and Reference Guide. URL: http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap2/jefferson.html (1/22/2012).
Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself.” The Norton Anthology of America Literature, 1865-1914. Ed. Nina Bayem. Vol C. 626-634. New York, London. 2007. Print.
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