O Captain My Captain Theme

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eaglecat | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

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The primary theme is masculine love; the speaker loves his captain as his own father.  Other themes are duty, honor and the personal sacrifice and individual cost of war, only seen by the speaker, due to his personal connection with the captain.  As the others in the poem are rejoicing in victory, only the speaker is mourning in spite of the festivity.  It also speaks of the unique and powerful bond of commradery that is found amongst brothers in arms. 

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lit24 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Valedictorian

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Whitman wrote "O Captain My Captain" to honour the memory of the American president Abraham Lincoln who was assasinated on 14.4.1865. He mourns the gruesome murder of a noble leader whom he loved and respected.

The Captain  is Abraham Lincoln and the ship is the United States of  America. Lincoln has steered his ship (country) safely into the harbour after enduring the trials and tribulations of the Civil War. He has succeeded in putting an end to the inhuman practice of slavery, but unfortunately the Captain, Abraham Lincoln, has sacrificed his life in this noble endeavour:"O Captain my Captain!our  fearful trip is done;/The ship has weather'd every rack,the prize we sought is won;.........But I, with mournful tread,/Walk the deck my captain lies,/Fallen cold and dead."

The main theme of the poem is that a noble leader-the Captain-  must be ready to lay down his life in the struggle for justice. Courage, both physical and mental, and integrity of purpose are the hallmark of a true leader.