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In "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman, what is the significance of section 10, only the...

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shahmeer | Student, Grade 11 | eNotes Newbie

Posted January 24, 2009 at 7:05 AM via web

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In "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman, what is the significance of section 10, only the part about the slave?

I also need help with the mood, tone, and the theme are there any symbolic or metaphorical layers?

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mrs-campbell | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted January 24, 2009 at 9:16 AM (Answer #1)

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In the last part of section 10 of the poem, Whitman describes how he heard a runaway slave outside of his door, and brought him into his own house.  He drew up a bath for him, gave him some clothes to wear, a room "that enter'd from my own", and let him stay there for "a week before he was recuperated and pass'd north".  Then, he states that the entire time the slave was there, he sat next to Whitman at the table, "my fire-lock lean'd in the corner."

This is a very significant passage, because during the time-frame that this was written, slavery was a very controversial issue.  Many felt and believed that helping a runaway slave was a crime of the law and nature.  Not only that, they felt that black people were below them in station.  In this passage, Whitman takes the man in, bathes him, nurtures his wounds, gives him a room right next to his, and has him sit right next to him at the table, feeling no need for his gun.  At a time when blacks lived, ate, and dressed separately, to do what Whitman did was a powerful statement of his beliefs on equality.  Even the slave was uncomfortable to such kind treatment:  "his revolving eyes and his awkwardness".  That is why this section is so meaningful.

There is imagery (using the 5 senses to describe) to paint a picture of the weariness of the slave:  "limpsy and weak" and "sweated body and bruis'd feet...plasters on the galls of his neck".  This helps to emphasize his need, and Whitman's kindness in helping him.

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