What are some of the political implications in the poem "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman?If you were asked to choose one stanza from “Song of Myself” and discuss the political implications,...

What are some of the political implications in the poem "Song of Myself" by Walt Whitman?

If you were asked to choose one stanza from “Song of Myself” and discuss the political implications, which one would you choose and what political implications would you discuss?

Asked on by martinaf01

1 Answer | Add Yours

docholl1's profile pic

Stephen Holliday | College Teacher | (Level 1) Distinguished Educator

Posted on

Although there are several points at which Whitman discusses subjects with political implications--the value of the individual, the honor in all types of work, the horrors of war--one of the most important scenes in the poem is Whitman's description of the runaway slave and his treatment of the runaway in the seventh section of Stanza 10.

Many people reading this section, particularly those in the southern states, would have reacted very negatively to this scene because not only is Whitman treating a slave as he would a white but he is also breaking the law--even northerners had the responsibilty, if they could reasonably conclude that the person was a runaway slave, of turning that person in to the authorities for return to the owner.  Whitman's actions, even though entirely compassionate and humane, would have angered many readers.

In an age when many whites believed blacks were not quite human beings, Whitman's democratic treatment of the runaway--allowing him to sleep near Whitman, having him sit at the table, leaving his weapon in plain sight of the runaway--would have horrified many readers who believed that blacks could not and should not be trusted not because blacks were slaves but because whites feared that, given a chance, a black would murder any white man he could.

Whitman's mention of having to put "plasters" on the slave's wounds on his neck and ankles was an indirect, but powerful, comment on the inhumane treatment of blacks by white slave-owning southerners.

This section simply reminded many of his likely readers that there were thousands of northerners who hated the institution of slavery and would take any risks, including breaking laws, to mitigate the horrible effects of slavery.  At the time, there was hardly an issue in the country that was so deeply felt, controversial, and divisive.

Sources:

We’ve answered 318,915 questions. We can answer yours, too.

Ask a question