“Chicago” started Sandburg’s literary rise, and many critics consider it one of his best poems. Certainly it is one of the most anthologized. “Chicago” contains most of the characteristics that made Sandburg famous: It breaks with conventional poetic versification, deals with the “unpoetic,” and expresses his lifelong faith in the American people’s resilience.
The opening verse imperatively addresses the city with brutal imagery and staccato lines. Sandburg personifies Chicago as a laborer by calling it “Hog Butcher for the World” and “City of the Big Shoulders.” The following long and prosy lines challenge the city on its reported evils, cataloging instances of cruelty and injustice. The speaker then defends Chicago for its pride, strength, and energy, implying that the aforementioned evils are by-products of its heartiness. Unconventional images describe the city’s vitality: a dog eager for action, an ignorant, undefeated prizefighter.
In “Chicago,” Sandburg demonstrates his love affair with the United States and its working class. This is evident in the image of Chicago as a brash prizefighter. The images of corruption of farm boys by prostitutes and of hunger on the faces of women and children also affiliate the city with the worker and the poor. Nowhere in its salute to Chicago’s vitality does it refer to its rich or elite.
Supporting the themes of raw energy in America’s working class is free...
(The entire section is 417 words.)