The subtitle of this biography, Builder for America, denotes the emphasis of Deutsch’s book. She presents Whitman’s life as expressing the ideals of the American love of freedom and the right of everyone (including slaves and poor immigrants) to share in prosperity. The problems Whitman experienced in his personal life and as a poet were also the problems of America—the political and moral prejudices that divided Americans and culminated in the devastating Civil War.
Perhaps because Whitman was unimpressed by the materialism and ambition of so many Americans of his youth, his early life was marked by his need to “loaf,” to enjoy life around him in nature and in the people he met. Even when it was necessary for him to earn a living, he refused to give up his long walks and his talks with people such as stagecoach drivers and longshoremen. Consequently his life was marked by frequent changes of jobs—printer, schoolteacher, editor, journalist, political speaker. In this spirit of movement, Whitman traveled across the United States. He boarded a steamboat going down the Mississippi to New Orleans, where he was an editor for a newspaper for a few months; he later traveled north to see the wonders of Niagara Falls. All these people and places become part of his poems.
The life of Whitman as expressed in Walt Whitman is attractive primarily because of the unique spirit of the man himself, a spirit essentially democratic...
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