Form and Content

(Critical Edition of Young Adult Fiction)

Walt Whitman: Builder for America narrates Whitman’s life chronologically, beginning with him as a small child and ending with his death at the age of seventy-four. The expression of events in chapter 1 typifies Babette Deutsch’s method of writing. An anecdote taken directly from Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself,” about a sea captain who refuses to surrender to an attacking British ship and eventually captures it, is put into the mouth of young Whitman’s great-grandfather, a retired sailor. This approach, used throughout the biography, enables the reader to read lines or phrases of the poems within the context of the poet’s life.

In addition, the reader can find the poems and appropriate excerpts reprinted in the second half of the text. There is also a list relating the titles of these poems to the relevant chapters of the biography. Deutsch’s biographical approach produces a wonderful composite containing both the author’s view of life, which produced the poetry, and the poetry that celebrates his life.

A single illustration, a sketch of Whitman by Raphael Busoni, presents the poet looking out to sea, with winds swirling around him. The pose suggests a love of nature and adventure that the biography goes on to describe.

From the beginning of the biography, Deutsch connects Whitman with the United States’ history and political development. In tracing the two-hundred-year-old family roots of Whitman in...

(The entire section is 434 words.)


(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Born in 1819, Walt Whitman lived until 1892, witnessing during the course of his life the progression of nineteenth-century American history...

(The entire section is 489 words.)

Literary Qualities

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

One of the strongest features of Deutsch's biography of Walt Whitman is its extensive selection of more than 100 pages of his poems "arranged...

(The entire section is 445 words.)

Social Sensitivity

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Casual references to "darkies" and "pickaninnies" early in the book indicate the unconscious use of racist language that even a sensitive and...

(The entire section is 222 words.)

Topics for Discussion

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Show how Whitman's boyhood on a farm on Long Island introduces him to the natural world. What other experiences in his life contribute to...

(The entire section is 112 words.)

Ideas for Reports and Papers

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

1. Connect a particular poem to an incident in Whitman's life and show how Whitman used his experience as a foundation for poetic...

(The entire section is 103 words.)

Related Titles / Adaptations

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Readers who enjoy Deutsch's discussions of Whitman's work might also be interested in reading her Poetry in Our Time: A Critical Survey of...

(The entire section is 37 words.)

For Further Reference

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. New York: New York University Press, 1967. The first...

(The entire section is 178 words.)