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Contradictory Aspect of Individualism in Whitman’s Poem Song of Myself: Critical Analysis

Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” the primarily developed around the theme of identity. The speaker in the poem does not only talk about himself but also for all human race which he shrewdly achieves by linking the being with nature. The fifty-two long poem fundamentally celebrates the ability of a person to become one with nature without losing one’s identity. Connectedly, the popular stand of the majority of scholars, is that Whitman main objective was to link the identity of a person with nature. Irrefutably, the concepts of identity and nature are the key building blocks of this poem. Whitman skillfully creates a celebratory atmosphere whereby he spontaneously acknowledges the lengthened and independent character of a human being especially as he interacts with nature. However, Whitman’s approach works to sanctify individuality, especially with the overuse of the pronoun 'I' downplaying the role of education and scholarly materials in recognizing one's identity and attaching meaning to nature and placing one's needs before that others. Also, Whitman does not acknowledge the aspect of a deity in controlling the universe and shaping one's identity.

The use of the 'I' is conspicuous in the poem, and it works to create a sense of individualism. Realistically from an individual’s point of view, the rest of humanity becomes part of nature. Nevertheless, the overuse of the pronoun “I” throughout the poem only lays the foundations for individualism. In the opening of the poem, Whitman pens 'I celebrate myself and sing myself, and what I assume you shall assume…' (Whitman Part 1 1-2). These opening lines inform the reader that the content majorly revolves around the narrator and his opinion will reign supreme and that the needs of the audience will take the second position. Individualism as an aspect of human race serves as an impediment to meaningful integrations among the members of the society and the rest of nature. Also, in the first part of the poem, Whitman downplays the importance of education by ignoring their contribution to the topic of identity and environment (Whitman Part 1 10-12). Irrefutably, the education system plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the elements of nature are preserved and that one recognizes their identity. Although the narrator purposes to speak against harming the environment, one cannot wish away the importance of the education system in safeguarding it.

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Similar to the aspect of downplaying the role of schools, Whitman also does not acknowledge the significance of books in the quest of identifying oneself. The narrator in the second part says “You shall no longer take things at second or third hand, nor look through the eyes of the dead, nor feed on the specters in books' (Whitman Part 2 23-24). Nature itself is composed of different elements, and from the eye of an individual, the rest of humanity becomes a distinct part of it. The opinions of others whether dead or alive form a fundamental pillar aspect of discovering one's identity including finding any meaning in nature. In the above line and those following it, Whitman contradicts his position a fact which is evidenced in the last sentence 'You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself' (Whitman Part 2 24). As mentioned before, personal identity and cultivating a relationship between self and nature are the primary themes of Whitman's poem. Distancing oneself from the rest of humanity the past and scholarly work can only amount to ignoring critical elements of nature. One’s identity is shaped both by primary experience in their surroundings, the opinion of the existing members of the human race, and of those who died which is passed in the form of books and other informational devices. Mainly, for one to pinpoint their identity, they must reference that of others including their opinions and scholarly work. Summarily, Whitman failed to recognize the place of books, the past, and the views of others in acknowledging the link between humanity and nature.

Connecting with one’s identity requires that one considers the needs of the other person and that of the rest of non-human nature. In part twenty of the poem, Whitman says 'What is a man anyhow? What am I? What are you?' (Whitman Part 20 3) Here, the narrator attempts to trigger the audience to find out their identity which augers well with the thematic structure of the poem. Nonetheless, he goes ahead to wrap up the objective with individualism by directing the reader to supplement his (narrator’s) character with theirs in case they disagree with him. Further, the persona notes that his world is his and it is up to him to do as he wishes. 'I wear my hat as I please indoors or out' (Whitman Part 20 9). In this line, the author cements the aspect of individualism in the poem. Undeniably, one does not leave in isolation, but still needs the inputs of others to live a meaningful life and leave behind a long-lasting legacy. Indeed, without the influence of other members of society, then one identity is worthless. Besides, nature traces its sustenance to a deity which Whitman seem not to recognize. Connecting one's identity with nature brings results into a robust relationship with a strong and unseen force which gives the bi-directional connection a meaning.

In conclusion, despite the attempt of Whitman to enlighten the audience on the connection between one's identity and nature, his work primarily champions for individualism. This aspect of the poem is worsened by his attempt to downplay the role of critical institutions of modern humanity such as education and scholarly works in shaping one's uniqueness. Besides, the author talks down the presence of a supernatural being which controls the entire universe. Thus, the relevance of Whitman’s message is tainted by his individualistic tone and approach which forms a substantial segment of the poem.

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