I Hear America Singing Theme

What is the theme of Walt Whitman's poem "I Hear America Singing"?

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mrshh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The themes of Walt Whitman's "I Hear America Singing" are taking joy in one's work and being productive. Whitman describes the work of people in many different occupations. He identifies some of their tasks. For example, the carpenter measures wood as he works and the girl washes and sews. Whitman gives credit to women's work with a brief mention near the end of the poem. Whitman's poem was written in a time when it was rare for women to work outside the home.

All of the workers in the poem are joyful as they work. One indication of their joy in their productivity is that they all sing as they work. The image of the singing workers is repeated throughout the poem to show the theme of joy and contentment in work. Walt Whitman describes this in the poem:

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear...

The workers have different voices and different songs. The poem's narrator describes how all the workers are "singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs."

mrs-campbell eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This poem is a joyous reflection of the many working people in America, and how they are going about their day, strong, happy, healthy, and good at their jobs.  The theme is productivity, or happiness in one's station in life.  He describes all sorts of people on their jobs-mechanics, carpenters, masons, boatmen, shoemaker, woodcutter, and even mothers, wives, and young men.  Each picture he presents of these people is their "blithe" and happy nature in their station of life.  He uses such optimistic and joyous words to describe them going about their days:  "blithe", "carols", "strong", "delicious", "robust", "friendly".  The entire poem is a celebration of life, a celebration of the many different types of people that make up what America is, and how they find joy and happiness in their every day.

I hope that helps a bit; it's a great poem!  Good luck!

sarahkoehler eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Remember that Whitman was answering Ralph Waldo Emerson's call for "An American Poet," someone who could best represent the majority of Americans rather than the elite politicians, millionaires or aristrocracy. Looking at the full text of the poem shows Whitman's respect and love for American people in their most basic environment: work. These people are optomistic and joyful in their work, even if the work itself is not glamorous or "special." Whitman adored those who found the joy and happiness in everyday life.

Good luck!