Explore the differences between Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson.

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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Much of this is going to come from your own perceptions and your own analysis.  I think that there is a similarity to locate human truth and understanding through the worship of the subjective.  Yet, within this, I think, lies a fundamental difference.  Whitman explores the subjective in the hope of demonstrating an outward and explicit worship of the community.  Whitman is unabashed in how he believes that what it means to be "American" lies in a shared consciousness.  While the subjective is a realm to be harvested, it is one to be shared with others.  In this, Whitman does not believe that the individual is meant to remain isolated.  In my mind, Dickinson does not seek to "go there."  She explores her own sense of identity and her own place in the world.  If the reader connects with it, the bounds of the community might be established.  I don't see Dickinson seeking an active embrace of the community and its representation in the political dimension as Whitman stresses.  While Whitman could not fully embrace the reality of isolation in the American dynamic, I think that Dickinson is quite content with this reality.  In Whitman, the exploration of a positive view of liberty, the political and social expression that allows individuals to "do great things" is matched with Dickinson's conception of "negative liberty," the reclusive journey into the "inner citadel," to quote Sir Isaiah Berlin, in which one seeks to be left alone.

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