List four instances in which Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" is different to Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." Be sure to explain/analyze the quotes you choose to use in detail....

List four instances in which Lady Gaga's "Born This Way" is different to Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." Be sure to explain/analyze the quotes you choose to use in detail.

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While there are several ways to draw thematic connections between Lady Gaga's song and Walt Whitman's long poem, the two works can be differentiated in just as many ways.

  • Whitman's interests are broad in "Song of Myself" and Gaga's interests are relatively narrow.
  • Lady Gaga repeatedly makes negative observations that contrast to her more encouraging ideas, whereas Whitman strives to maintain a solely positive and expansive tone.
  • Whitman's poem is more or less a work of Transcendentalism, interested in the spiritual potentialities of the self, and Gaga's song is focused more on establishing a social identity that is self-accepting. These two angles are similar but very different in scope.

Although Gaga makes references to religion and points to certain philosophical ideas and ideals, she anchors much of the song in a discourse on appearances. 

My mama told me when I was young
We are all born superstars
She rolled my hair and put my lipstick on
In the glass of her boudoir

Gaga's song consistently maintains a social focus, whereas Whitman's poem repeatedly focuses on nature and creates a motif that effectively explores the relationship between human nature at its most pure and the natural world.

The atmosphere is not a perfume, it has no taste of the
     distillation, it is odorless,
It is for my mouth forever, I am in love with it,
I will go to the bank by the wood and become undisguised
     and naked,
I am mad for it to be in contact with me.

Where Whitman expresses notions of a transcendence of religion, Gaga plays a contradictory game in her description of a god that does not make mistakes and a "religion of the insecure."

There is a sense that, for Lady Gaga, religion is part of a social structure that generates limitations, self-doubt, and social judgment.

Give yourself prudence and love your friends
Subway kid, rejoice of truth
In the religion of the insecure
I must be myself, respect my youth

Gaga's song demonstrates a tendency to bounce from negative observations into positive assertions of self-worth as a means of constructing a sort of binary or clear-cut emotional choice, whereas Whitman remains remarkably positive (for the great majority of the 52-part poem), refusing to castigate the ideas and beliefs he might disagree with. Here we see Gaga's binary program, as it were: 

Whether life's disabilities
Left you outcast, bullied or teased
Rejoice and love yourself today
'Cause baby, you were born this way

The distinctions that Gaga draws are certainly the sort of sympathetic and categorical distinctions that many contemporary listeners will relate to, and there is a real sense of empowerment in the idea of choosing to find value in one's identity instead of erasing or evading that identity. Yet one can't help but point to the fact that Gaga uses "don't" as a mandate (e.g., "Don't be a drag" and "Don't hide yourself in regret") with far more frequency than Whitman uses this kind of negative angle. Whitman's tonal refrain is one of excited purity and profound equanimity.

Clear and sweet is my soul, and clear and sweet is all that is
     not my soul.

He seems to (or wants to) accept not just himself but the world too. His project is not limited to self-acceptance, per se, but extends to the aim of absorbing the world into the self or, put another way, of erasing the boundaries between self and cosmos. 

I am an acme of things accomplish'd, and I an encloser of
     things to be.

Throughout Whitman's poem, the voice of the poet seems to have already transcended the social strictures and limitations that Gaga urges her listener to overcome. The post facto character of Whitman's poem makes it less of an exhortation in comparison to Gaga's song and more of a celebration. This is true despite the fact that Gaga's refrain seems to celebrate the fait accompli of self-acceptance. 

So we see Gaga giving advice while Whitman reflects on the ecstatic achievement of similar advice about finding beauty in the self.

On the whole, the most pointed difference between these two works might be the discrepancy between the essentially social focus of "Born This Way" and the fundamentally metaphysical project of "Song of Myself."

Whitman and Gaga both encourage self-acceptance and urge the audience to find value in one's own nature. Whitman, however, looks to directly and emphatically transcend all categories. He lists social categories, just like Lady Gaga, but in doing so seems to be trying to create an equivalency between them that proves they are actually less than meaningful.

Lady Gaga seems instead to want individuals to accept their individuality, which is a project of considerably different scope and style. She does not directly challenge the validity of social categories but suggests that a person can be happy and beautiful regardless of category.

Read the study guide:
Song of Myself

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