Democratic Vistas Summary
by Walt Whitman

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Democratic Vistas Summary

Democratic Vistas, written by Walt Whitman, is an early American work from 1871. This work is comprised of three essays that discuss democracy and Whitman's opinions on the role that democracy will play in United States history.

Most of Whitman's opinions on America are negative as a result of the effects the Civil War had on the country. In his essays, Whitman attempts to offer a solution for the problems he believes are occurring in America. His goal is to develop a "Golden Age" in the New World. Whitman believes that in order for America to be great, America must stray from old traditions and beliefs and focus more on art, poetry, schools, science, and new technologies that can teach and train men.

Whitman provides criticism of American culture, politics and government, and values throughout these essays.

The work is divided into three main considerations, the first being American society and government, the second being Americans as individuals, and the third being about American literature.

Whitman believes that America should have a cultural identity in order to be successful. He also believes that the government should aim to nurture this identity and cultivate growth and independence from other countries but solidarity in America.

As far as individual Americans, Whitman thinks that all people should be able to express their own personalism. Whitman encourages individuality and creativity among the American people. He does not agree with materialism.

As a poet and writer, it makes sense that Whitman had a strong opinion about the importance of literature. He believes that literature should be used to educate and enhance the American culture by teaching morals and faith.

Democratic Vistas is in itself a warning for the American people, encouraging the type of growth Whitman deems important and necessary.


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Written when Walt Whitman was in his early fifties, Democratic Vistas demonstrates the author’s discouragement at what he saw in America. The sobering effects of the Civil War, the death of Abraham Lincoln, and the overwhelming change resulting from the Industrial Revolution are quite evident as Whitman attempts to introduce a plan for the development of a golden age in the New World.

Like Whitman’s poetry, the work has no substantial organization; it tends to ramble and to be repetitious. Nevertheless, in its portrait of Whitman’s philosophy, and in its analysis of the potentiality of the American society, Democratic Vistas is extremely significant. Its criticism of American politics, culture, and values in general was partly the result of the disillusionment that existed after the Civil War, but the considerations are still quite applicable to American society.

Simply stated, the thesis of Democratic Vistas is that, while America is surpassing all other nations industrially and has the material facilities to continue its advancement, it lacks a distinct culture or spiritual identity. According to Whitman, such an identity could only come about through works of literature written in new literary styles by new artists. In effect, he is stating that the United States has the human resources, the material resources, and the sound political structure to make itself the most nearly ideal society that has ever existed. As Whitman views the American scene, however, he sees no unique values, no real expression of these new concepts, but only a materialistic society relying on old ideas and traditional expressions. Thus, the overall result of the work is a plea for great literary works that would serve as a foundation for a new society.

Though the work has no organization other than the repetition of this same theme, Whitman’s approach follows four general divisions: a portrait of the American society and its values, a statement of the basic principles and ideals that represent the goals of the “mass, or lump character” of America, the principle of the individual as the focal point for the ideal society, and great literature as the...

(The entire section is 2,143 words.)