Was Whitman’s view of America realistic, or was he romanticizing the country? Explain

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

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I do not think that Whitman is writing with an understanding that there is meant to be realism in his depiction of America.  He writes in the vein where there is direct Romanticism of the dream that America can be.  Part of the reason he writes what he does is that he sincerely believes that the youth of America is what enables it to reach the highest of ideals.  This pantheon of greatness is possible because America is so "young," in comparison to other nations in the world.  It lacks the weight of history, the crushing burden of the past that would stifle dreams.  For Whitman, this idea is Romantic in its very nature.  His romanticism of America is based in the idea that if poets can help to give voice to the young nation, it can embody the ideals that other nations could never do.  For Whitman, the romanticism of America is akin to the romanticism of the individual, a force that is revered in America.  This is why there is so much passion and intensity in Whitman's love of America. It is Romanticism embodied because, for Whitman, America can be that portal to a pantheon of greatness.  This is a capacity that other nations lack.  In this, Whitman is able to project and strive America and its voice to represent what can be as opposed to what is.  It is in this where Romanticism is evident, and where Whitman rejects his role as realist as much as "romantic lover" of what America is in the light of what can be.

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