I Hear America Singing Theme

What is the theme of Walt Whitman's poem “I Hear America Singing”?

The overriding theme of Walt Whitman's poem “I Hear America Singing” is the dignity of work. In what is a highly romanticized view of work, Whitman looks beyond the mindless drudgery that affects most working people in his day to behold instead what he regards as the dignity of their calling.

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I would argue that there are three themes in this wonderful, uplifting poem of Walt Whitman's. The first is the joy that can be found in one's work, the second is companionship, and the third is satisfaction with one's lot in life.

Singing is almost always a joyous action, and this poem provides numerous illustrations of people singing as they go about their work. Even though it is blue-collar work, and one of the people mentioned is this poem are likely to be fabulously wealthy, they are all happy and content.

The theme of companionship is introduced by the mention of two different professions in several of the lines in the poem. For example, the shoemaker and the hatter are both singing, and the wood-cutter and the ploughboy both have a song.

The theme of satisfaction can be found in the line "Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else." This has a strong implication that every worker is satisfied with his or her lot in life, and that there is no jealousy or ill-feeling between the workers described by Whitman.

The theme of joy pervades the entire poem, and an image is created of a happy society filled with music and melodies. A world free of complaints and full of song is a wonderful place to imagine, and one can feel Whitman's joy as one reads the poem.

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"I Hear America Singing" can be seen as a celebration of work; to be more specific, it is a paean of praise for blue-collar work. White-collar workers are notable by their absence in Whitman's poem—a sign that, like many middle-class intellectuals, he has a somewhat Romantic conception of the real-life working conditions of ordinary people.

In romanticizing the work of mechanics, carpenters, masons, boatmen, and countless others, Whitman believes that he's celebrating the ordinary Joes of society, the unsung heroes of labor whose work is essential to the running of the American economy.

Yet in romanticizing America's ordinary workers, Whitman conveniently overlooks the appalling, often downright degrading conditions in which many such people were expected to work. Treating working people as heroes in the way that he does can all too easily provide an excuse for not dealing with the many challenges they have to face, such as securing shorter hours, benefits, and decent pay.

To be sure, this isn't Whitman's intention, but in listening to Americans “sing” he seems not to hear the plaintive cries of working men and women in distress. Given what we know of the treatment of working people in Whitman's day, perhaps his song is just a little too happy.

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The themes of Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" are taking joy in one's work and being productive. Whitman describes the work of people in many different occupations. He identifies some of their tasks. For example, the carpenter measures wood as he works and the girl washes and sews. Whitman gives credit to women's work with a brief mention near the end of the poem. Whitman's poem was written in a time when it was rare for women to work outside the home.

All of the workers in the poem are joyful as they work. One indication of their joy in their productivity is that they all sing as they work. The image of the singing workers is repeated throughout the poem to show the theme of joy and contentment in work. Walt Whitman describes this in the poem:

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear...

The workers have different voices and different songs. The poem's narrator describes how all the workers are "singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs."

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Remember that Whitman was answering Ralph Waldo Emerson's call for "An American Poet," someone who could best represent the majority of Americans rather than the elite politicians, millionaires or aristrocracy. Looking at the full text of the poem shows Whitman's respect and love for American people in their most basic environment: work. These people are optomistic and joyful in their work, even if the work itself is not glamorous or "special." Whitman adored those who found the joy and happiness in everyday life.

Good luck!

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This poem is a joyous reflection of the many working people in America, and how they are going about their day, strong, happy, healthy, and good at their jobs.  The theme is productivity, or happiness in one's station in life.  He describes all sorts of people on their jobs-mechanics, carpenters, masons, boatmen, shoemaker, woodcutter, and even mothers, wives, and young men.  Each picture he presents of these people is their "blithe" and happy nature in their station of life.  He uses such optimistic and joyous words to describe them going about their days:  "blithe", "carols", "strong", "delicious", "robust", "friendly".  The entire poem is a celebration of life, a celebration of the many different types of people that make up what America is, and how they find joy and happiness in their every day.

I hope that helps a bit; it's a great poem!  Good luck!

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