What is literally happening in Carl Sandburg's poem"Chicago" ? Also, what is the theme of the poem? I've been told that I'm not understanding the concept of this, so I'm hoping that you guys will...

What is literally happening in Carl Sandburg's poem"Chicago" ? Also, what is the theme of the poem?

I've been told that I'm not understanding the concept of this, so I'm hoping that you guys will help out. Thanks, I appreciate it so much!

Asked on by awes0me

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jmj616 | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Associate Educator

Posted on

Carl Sandburg's poem, "Chicago," is not a narrative, so--in the literal sense--nothing is "happening" in the poem.  Rather, the poem attempts to convey a feeling for the city's particular qualities by listing and describing the kinds of activities that people do in it. 

Much of the poem focuses on the types of industry that were taking place in Chicago in 1914, when the poem was written:

a. Hog Butcher for the World, 
Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, 
Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler

b. Shoveling, 
Wrecking, 
Planning, 
Building, breaking, rebuilding

No latte-sipping while working on a lap-top here!  Chicago in 1914 was a city of hard, physical labor.

The poem also describes some of the cruel aspects of life in the big city:

a. I 
have seen your painted women under the gas lamps 
luring the farm boys. 
And they tell me you are crooked and I answer: Yes, it 
is true I have seen the gunman kill and go free to 
kill again.

b. they tell me you are brutal and my reply is: On the 
faces of women and children I have seen the marks 
of wanton hunger.

The poet admits that Chicago is "fierce as a dog" and "cunning as a savage."  Still, he admires the city's vitality, because "under [its] wrist is the pulse,/ and under his ribs [is] the heart of the people."


 

Sources:

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