What questions should be raised regarding Whitman's "Song of Myself?" 

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Ashley Kannan | Middle School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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I think that one of the most basic questions that can be raised out of Whitman's "Song of Myself" is whether or not there is a larger configuration that binds the individual.  While the poem affirms "myself," it is evident that Whitman sees this as something larger:  “Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am, . . . Both in and out of the game and watching and wondering at it.”  An interesting debate that can emerge from the poem is whether or not there is this larger construction.  Whitman seems to be pulling up a very interesting argument.  On one hand, he is affirming the individual sense of self.  Yet, at the same time, Whitman is arguing that within this subjective is something larger that binds and connects all individuals.  It might be interesting to debate Whitman's proposition that there is something larger binding all individuals to one another.  

Another question that emerges from Whitman's "Song of Myself" is the role of individual freedom.  Whitman makes clear that individual freedom is wide ranging and one that cannot be directed.  In Whitman's logic, if one has freedom, then they are able to do whatever they wish with it. If it turns out that they wish to count blades of grass in their life, Whitman says that this is completely acceptable:  “I loafe and invite my soul,/ I lean and loafe at my ease observing a spear of summer grass,”  This invites a very interesting debate in terms of whether there are "higher" and "lower" pleasures associated with one's freedom.  In Whitman's understanding, there are none.  The expansion and activation of freedom is its own intrinsic good.  However, an interesting debate can emerge regarding how Whitman sees freedom and whether there are higher and lower notions of freedom and taste.  Is it superior to count grains of sand as opposed to caring for the sick and needy?  Isn't there a distinction between the life geared for monetary profit as opposed to one caring for the social good?  Whitman's ideas can be extrapolated into the realm of artistic endeavor, as well.  For example, can we say that Mozart is "better" than One Direction?  Can we say that Beethoven has more musical merit than Maroon 5?  The implications from Whitman's position is that there are no "higher" and "lower" distinctions, but rather simply freedom.  This is another debatable issue that emerges from Whitman's poem.

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