Always the Young Strangers Critical Essays

Carl Sandburg


(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Sandburg’s autobiography is essentially the tracing of a young boy’s growth in knowledge of his immediate environment, his family, and the lives of the people in his hometown of Galesburg, Illinois. The autobiography’s special charm lies in the narrator’s sensitive perspective: He sees, appreciates, and respects people of all social and economic levels. The reflective mind of the growing boy equalizes the significance of the town eccentric, the boarder in Sandburg’s home, and the future well-known financier.

Because Sandburg never alludes to writing poems after the use of excerpts from his work in the title and the epigraph, he apparently does not see writing as central to his memories. Yet, the narrator does seem to reveal much about what makes a writer by stressing his openness to the lives of everyone around him, socially significant or otherwise. He often states that his experiences with people constitute his classroom without walls.

Indeed, Sandburg seems in awe of life. As he relates the stories of people in his hometown, he asks many philosophical questions: What makes poor men and women endure steerage boat travel and overland wagons to settle a country? What drives people to acquire great power and wealth? Who is the person behind the public facade of minister, police officer, or school supervisor? These are the questions that a curious young adult will recognize, but they are also the questions of the mature writer recording his memories.

Sandburg’s setting, the town of Galesburg in the years between the Civil War and the Spanish-American War, is crucial to his memories. Growing up in a time and place where most of the adults remember the Civil War as “the War,” the young Sandburg shares their feelings about some of the principal...

(The entire section is 736 words.)