Discuss how the reader is supposed to finally understand the "I" in Whitman's Song of Myself?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that this becomes one of the primary issues in Whitman's writing.  In the end, Whitman strives to make the personal notion of self a universal one.  Whitman's goal is to see that the reader understands the subjective experience that he undergoes in the course of the collection of poem.  Through this acknowledgement of the subjective, there is a hopeful connection and application to the universal.  It is here where I think that the "I" is to be understood.  While Whitman examines the concept of his own identity and the contours of the American experience through his own lens, it is clear that he wishes for it to be grasped and absorbed by the reader, as well.  In recognizing his subjective, there is a hope that this can be appreciated in the realm of the universal.  This is a strongly Romantic tendency in that the poet sees himself as a representation of the universal voice that is filtered through his own sense of being in the world.  The artistic experience for Whitman is to explore his own recesses of the universal and through this, a universal link can be forged.  In this, the reader understands the "I" as both Whitman and themselves in the acknowledgement of experience.