Walt Whitman Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

In the poem "I Hear America Singing" by Walt Whitman, is he romanticizing or idealizing the workers?

Expert Answers info

Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2009

write16,848 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

One of Whitman's most powerful elements in Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" is his belief that the American fabric is composed of working individuals.  There might be a bit of Romanticism or idealism associated with his depiction, but this can be attributed to his embrace of the Romanticism of America.  In drawing such a picture of America, Whitman believes that the essence of American identity is reflected in the working individuals who comprise a different aspect of the national character through the completion of individual tasks.  One can almost imagine that Whitman is walking through Camden and sees all these different components to the American tapestry.  This is probably where Whitman's romanticism and idealism can be forgiven.  Few would argue that Whitman is depicting the honest challenges of working individuals, but within his composition, Whitman presents a vision of America that aspires to what it should be and the "better angels" of the Democratic nature.  In this hope, one can see where Romanticism and Idealism the working forces are fused into his depiction of America.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

coachingcorner eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write1,346 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and History

In the poem 'I Hear America Singing by Walt Whitman' the poet seems to be both romaticizing and idealizing the workers simultaneously. Many readers may find this romatic, idyllic scene of a rural America unfamiliar and may even be offended by a perceived deliberate painting of a situation that was,in fact, unreal for most people.Even the tradespeople lucky enough to have those jobs may hardly have made enough to make ends meet for their kids or put food on the table.

Whitman presents a pastoral scene where everyone is gainfully employed as an artisan from classical times would be - mostly creatively, industriously and joyfully. However, some cynical readers may want to ask themselves where are the songs of the unemployed, the voices from the past that sing of the oppression of the slaves, the carols from the Depression queues - and topically in today's war situation - the soldiers voices from Iraq and Afghanistan, so in that sense the poem doesn't speak for us today or about other challenging times for some people in America.

Nonetheless, Whitman's poems became very popular - this one perhaps for an ideal it was striving to depict rather than reality as it really was. It's also worth remembering that Whitman, unlike his poetic peers, left school young and the 'pastoral types' and working men he wrote about were present among his own sphere of friends.Was he misrepresenting them? Unlikely - he and they were most likely appreciative of their lot.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial