In his preface to Leaves of Grass, how does Whitman define America's attitude toward the past?

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In the Preface to Leaves of Grass, Whitman accurately conveys a central quality of the American psyche in stating that Americans are not oriented to the past, to "reminiscences." In this he is implicitly contrasting the attitudes of the New World with those of the Old:

As if it were necessary to trot back generation after generation

to the eastern records! As if the beauty and sacredness of the

demonstrable must fall behind that of the mythical! As if men

do not make their mark out of any times!

What was true 160 years ago is true now. Though the peoples of the US, apart from the Native Americans, all trace their roots to other continents, to the Old World, all have become American, have become a new nation, and their old-world roots and myths, though not forgotten, have receded into the background, in Whitman's time and our own. Whitman does mention the indigenous Americans as the "tribes of red aborigines." It is a brief reference, but it shows that he is including them in his predictions for America's future, thus separating himself from other European Americans of the time.

In general, Americans historically, whatever our other faults and wrongdoings, which are many, tend to cut themselves loose from the past. Whitman, however, is not stating that the past should be forgotten:

The American poets are to enclose old and new, for

America is the race of races.

In this melding of old and new, Whitman is actually prophesying the multiculturalism which has become a reality in our time. He anticipates, as well, the dissolving of past hierarchies, including those based on gender, when he refers to "the perfect equality of the female with the male." He knows (in 1855) that slavery will be abolished as well, for he speaks of "the stern opposition to it which shall never cease till it ceases or the speaking of tongues and the moving of the lips cease. In perhaps his most radical statement, Whitman says,

There will soon be no more priests. Their work is done.

Whitman is predicting the brotherhood and sisterhood of all humanity as replacing the older faiths. In all, Whitman's message is that Americans are the ones who will lead the world forward, not forgetting the past, but rejecting (as he observes that they already are doing, or have the potential to do) the old ways that have burdened and inhibited the advance of humanity.

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In the first lines of the preface, Whitman illustrated what he believed to be America's relationship with its past:

AMERICA does not repel the past or what it has produced under its forms or amid other politics or the idea of castes or the old religions[...]accepts the lesson with calmness[...]is not so impatient as has been supposed that the slough still sticks to opinions and manners and literature while the life which served its requirements has passed into the new life of the new forms[...].

America produces its own forms but is still influenced by "other politics" (e.g., our British roots and influences from French Enlightenment figures, particularly Montesquieu), "the idea of castes," (the class system that persisted both officially in the Southern plantation system and less formally in the North), and "the old religions" (i.e., the Christian faiths that the settlers brought with them).

America, Whitman contended, was not "impatient as has been supposed" by those who underestimate the young nation. Whitman appears to be saying that America does not seek to "slough" off its past. On the contrary, the old lessons still stick to the nation's "opinions and manners and literature." The nation is, thus, a product of its influences, which adhere though the nation continues to evolve. Whitman seemed to think that Americans appreciated their past and, contrary to popular belief, had a sense of history, while also taking an interest in "new forms"—that is, new ideas and customs.

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