Walt Whitman Questions and Answers

Start Your Free Trial

What is meant by Walt Whitman's "Do I contradict myself? Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes"? I need to explain how it relates to The Toughest Indian in the World and The Bluest Eyes...only I am not clear what Mr. Whitman really means.

Expert Answers info

Wallace Field eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseTeacher (K-12)

calendarEducator since 2016

write7,214 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Arts

When Whitman writes, "Do I contradict myself? / Very well then I contradict myself, / (I am large, I contain multitudes)," he is embracing something that is typically thought of as a shortcoming or something that makes a person appear to be unreliable. He makes the act of contradicting oneself something positive: a person who contradicts himself, in Whitman's view, is a person who has more to discover about himself, more to contribute to the world from himself. More often, we are told that we must adhere to our principles all the time, but we rarely discuss the fact that those principles can change. We are told that we must be consistent or risk appearing weak and unreliable: Whitman clearly doesn't care a pittance for such appearances. It is as though, for him, the person who never contradicts himself hasn't considered life deeply enough or leads a too-simple interior life.

check Approved by eNotes Editorial

mrs-campbell eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2008

write2,159 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Arts

In this quote, Walt Whitman is discussing one of his favorite themes, and that is the concept of celebrating who he is as a human being, even if it is flawed, contradictory, or imperfect.  Whitman was an individualist, a man who emphasized loving oneself and seeing oneself as the source of great strength and guidance.  Whitman, along with Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau, felt that the person who could judge best and understand best was our own selves.  They believed in taking pride in one's opinions and beliefs and decisions, even if they were to change those opinions or beliefs the next day.

Walt Whitman admits openly that he is contradictory, meaning, he says one thing one day and the total opposite thing the next day.  He isn't consistent in his opinions, and that is okay.  Being contradictory is a part of human nature, and we shouldn't be embarrassed by it, but embrace it, because it is who we are.  He goes on to say that within his own person there are "multitudes" of different angles and personalities.  We all can relate to that feeling--at home we might be open and talkative, while at school maybe we're reserved.  Or, maybe with our friends we are super fun and crazy, but with our teachers we are  respectful and quiet.  So, each of us contains different parts of our personality that come out at different times, and Whitman emphasizes being okay with that, embracing that part of ourselves, and loving ourselves for who we are.

I hope that those thoughts helped; good luck!

check Approved by eNotes Editorial