Walt Whitman’s Song Of Myself

Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” was a hefty read this week. It seemed to go on forever. Several things stuck out at me during my reading of it, and after we discussed it in class.

The first thing I thought was that Whitman was very self-centered. Honestly, although I didn’t read the whole thing because it was very boring, what I did read seemed to show a very self-centered man. He seemed convinced that what he thought was the “right thing” to do with his life.

After reading it with the class, I thouht a lot more about he transcendetal side of his poem, along with more aspects of his literary style. In the first stanza the lines “And what I assume you shall assume, For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” which shows his transcendtal side, as everyone could be connected in this world. He is tapping into this spiritual side, and extolling it in his “Song of Myself”. he continually refers to himself in the way of referring to God, as in “Whoever disrespects others, disrespects me” which reminds me of God.

Overall, I liked the poem, but I wasn’t a huge fan. Walt Whitman was a cool guy, but I think I’l wait for another few years to read him again and maybe get a new perspective of him.

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Whitman’s “The Wound-Dresser”

The readings this week, with the exception of Whitman’s The Wound-Dresser, were all from people who were clearly on one side or the other of the Civil War. Reading them helped me to understand people’s view from both sides, but The Wound-Dresser was the most interesting to read, and brought a new, third angle to the discussion of the war.

Whitman writes from the perspective of a nurse, or someone who is going through the hospital tending to the wounded. This person, unlike the authors and other writers I read this week, is not on either side of the war. He says “was one side so brave? the other was equally brave;” indicating his impartiality. This poem makes me think several things. One is that, even though they are all divided and they hate each other and are going to war for what they personally believe in, after it’s over, they’re all the same. They’re just men who wanted to protect their families and way of living. Bullets don’t discriminate, and neither should the people who can hep them when they’ve been hurt. Once they’ve been wounded and are in the hospital, the ‘would-dresser’ goes around and helps each person regardless of what side they might be on. He doesn’t even mention which side’s hospital he is in, making the emphasis on the unimportance of ‘sides’ even bigger.

My other thoughts about this poem is that it is, in a sense, timeless. What I mean is that although it was written about the Civil War, this scene of the ‘wound-dresser’ coming around in the hospital is a scene that could have happened at any time in history, during any war, including the present day. This could be taking place in the US during the Civil War, in Vietnam, in Afghanistan, or anywhere there has been fighting. As long as there are conflicts between large groups of people, there will be fighting. And as long as there is fighting, there will be the injured and the dead, and there will the few doctors and nurses that take care of them all.

The man in the poem talks about the bravery of the wounded on both sides, but he doesn’t mention the other kind of bravery, which is his own for being able to continue going around and around to all the wounded men and taking care of them. I would not be able to do anything like that. He sits by men and watches them die, and continues on to the next man, tending “the amputated hand” and “the perforated shoulder, the foot with the bullet-wound”, and continues with an “impassive hand”. This poem definitely made me think a lot and I liked it a lot. It was the most interesting reading I did this week.

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Bartleby, The Scrivener

This week’s reading was interesting, and I mainly focused on Melville’s “Bartleby, the Scrivener”. This short story was easy to read but after reading it I realized I didn’t get it. Bartleby just stops doing any work but continues to stay in the office and lives there even when the narrator moves out completely. It said in the description of Melville that there was debate about this story because of who people thought Bartleby was supposed to represent. One of the options was “an example of passive resistance to unjust authority” (Bedford, 1075), but I don’t fully agree with this idea. I don’t think there’s any real justification for Bartleby simply refusing to do the job he was hired to do. The narrator wasn’t overly rude or mean to him, he seemed to just be asking him to do his job. When Bartleby said “I would prefer not to”, as he repeats throughout the story, the narrator doesn’t get very angry at him or yell excessively or anything of the sort. I feel like Bartleby is more of an expression of just the kind of “alienated workers in modern commercial society” (Bedford, 1075), but I wasn’t too sure about it.

I think it also interesting that the narrator of the story is not actually the main character. Usually in a story, especially a story told in the first person, the narrator is also the main character. However, in this story, the narrator’s name isn’t even mentioned except once, and then it is “Mr. B—“, making his name clearly insignificant to the rest of the story. This is also what made me realize that the narrator is not the main character. The main character is actually Bartleby.  The whole story is about him, and even at the end, the rest of his life is what the narrator talks about, and not a whole lot about how the narrator ended up. Telling the story about him, but not from his point of view provides a distance from him and allows the reader to look at him in a different way.

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Week 8: Emerson’s Self-Reliance

My most favorite reading this week was definitely Emerson’s Self-Reliance. Straight from the start I found myself thinking more and more about what he was writing about. Specifically, a passage on page 684 that reads:

“A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within…Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every work of genius we recongnise our own rejected thoughts…Great works of art have no more affecting lesson for us than this. They teach us to abide by our spontaneus inpression with good humored inflexibility…Else, to-morrow a stranger will say with masterly good sense precisely what we have thought and felt all the time, and we shall be forced to take with shame our own opinion from another.”

It is so true, in my life and in countless others, that we are afraid to speak our minds for whatever reason, and then someone else says the same thing and is applauded for it. It holds true for me specifically because I am very shy at times, and afraid to speak in case I get laughed at or people think I’m stupid or something. But I should probably learn to speak up anyway, because there’s no way to know if something I said could be awesome. It’s an annoying feeling when I think of something to say, but I don’t say it, and someone else says it and gets praised, especially in the classroom setting when I lose participation points. Also, when this happens, to suddenly shout out and and say that ‘Oh, I thought of that first!’ is to try and prove yourself to others, but most likely what you will end up doing is just appear desperate for attention, and jealous of others excellent thoughts. The only way to avoid this from happening is to speak your mind in the first place. In terms of Emerson, and his essay and the bigger picture, the great men of the world are those who were not afraid to bring out their spontaneous thoughts as their own.

Another line I liked, a famous one, is “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string” (Bedford, 685). If you don’t trust yourself, you can’t even begin to trust anyone else either. Emerson wrote this essay when he was in the middle of the controversy over his speech at the Harvard Divinity School, to which he was never invited back. The entire essay, with this in mind, clearly states his view on the matter. throughtout the essay he again and again demands that man not be timid and conform to the view of others, because conformers are predictable and unable to contribute anything new to society. People who conform to or imitate others are not expressing their whole selves, and cannot become great in this way. I greatly enjoyed reading this essay and I am more interested in Emerson in general as well.

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Week 7 Reading: Longstreet’s ‘The Dance’

During this week’s reading, the story that struck me the most was The Dance by Augustus Baldwin Longstreet. I didn’t understand it until I’d read it about three times. I still don’t really understand it, although I draw more from it each time I read it. The story is about the Author going to a country dance that is much like the dances he went to thirty years ago in his youth. While there he recalls all the people from his youth and personifies them in the people he sees currently. His old girlfriend Polly Jackson he sees in Polly Gibson, who as it turns out is Polly Jackson’s daughter. When he finally sees Polly Jackson, she doesn’t recognize him, although he reminds her of all of their friends from long ago. Even after he leaves, she never remembers him, and that is how the story ends.

The story centers around the dance, where he meets Polly again, and where he tries to get her to recognize him by doing one particular dance move that he was very good at when he was younger, but she leave the hall just as he is about to start and so misses the move. The details of the dances are extensive, and the fact that the story is called ‘The Dance’, to me refers to the dance moves themselves, which appear to be very important to the author, than the dance as an event that he goes to. I may be missing subtle clues in the story, because I still don’t quite understand the point of it. I don’t understand why she doesn’t recognize him, because she recognizes the names of the people he mentions to her, just not him. I will read it again later.

While reading, I thought that it reminded me a lot of Edgar Allen Poe’s gothic short stories. The lack of explanation for why Polly doesn’t recognize the author when she clearly recognizes the names of the people he mentions is slightly disturbing to me as a reader. It gives the story a slightly gothic leaning as the reader has to make some assumptions about what’s going on even when none of them make too much sense. The whole story seems slightly like a fairy tale or something similar. When I went back and read the author’s biography I realized that Poe was around at the time and had reviewed the stories as well. I feel like one of the authors influenced the other, although I’m not sure which direction it might have gone in. This story was very interesting to me and I will definitely be reading it again, as well as looking up Longstreet and more of his stories.

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Reading week 4: Mary Rowlandson and ‘The Sovereignty and Goodness of God’

This week’s reading focused partly on captivity narratives, mainly that of Mary Rowlandson. Mary Rowlandson, wife of a minister named Joseph Rowlandson, was captured by Indians and held captive for three months before being ransomed back to her family.

What I noticed during this reading was the total and absolute devotion Mary Rowlandson had to God. The narrative itself is called ‘The Sovereignty and Goodness of God’ and it is clear that Rowlandson truly believed that her entire captivity was for some higher purpose, and that God wanted her to go through the experience. She states that “My head also was so light, that I usually reeled as I went; but I hope all these wearisome steps that I have taken, are but a forewarning to me of the heavenly rest” (209) indicating her constant belief in God’s will. At no point during her time with the Indians does she question God or His actions, and neither does she blame him for her plight, or do anything other than praise him. One passage from the Bible, of which Rowlandson proves to be very well read on, is from Psalms 27 “Wait on the Lord, Be of good courage, and he shall strengthen thine Heart, wait I say on the Lord” (203). This one line really sums up what Rowlandson does during her time; she waits and trusts in the Lord to give her the courage she needs to survive and eventually see her family again. When she is finally released and goes back to her family, after everything she endured, lack of food, lack of sleep, the death of most of her family and the constant battle to stay alive during those three months, she isn’t angry at the Lord. Instead she thinks He has given her what she always wanted, a test or affliction to prove herself to Him, and she has passed that test. As she quotes from David, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted”, and as she says “we must rely on God himself, and our whole dependence must be upon him” (228)

As an atheist, the level of the Puritan’s faith in God is something I have trouble understanding. I have never turned to God in a moment of trouble, nor do I believe the hardships in my life are tests of my faith to Him. However, I can begin to understand their view more after reading Mary Rowlandson’s writings. In an absolutely desperate time of need, people need something or someone to turn to, to give them reason to continue. Rowlandson’s level of commitment is impressive and moving, and makes me wonder if I could survive the way she did, with all of my morals and beliefs intact, if I were to go through such a traumatic as her.

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Reading Week 3: Bradford’s ‘Of Plimoth Plantation’ and James’ Speech on the 350th Anniversary of Plymouth Rock

As I read this week’s readings, what really stuck out at me was from William Bradford’s account Of Plimoth Plantation. Bradford talks about the sufferings of his people in England and their trip to the New World. He mentions the hardships they faced during the harsh first winter, and their formation of some sort of government. He also mentions the Indians, and how they were dealt with. When they talked with Samaset and Squanto, the Native Americans that could speak English, they forged a treaty with them that included no injury to each others groups, no stealing, and the promise of help in the event of an unjust war against either party. What I thought was rather amazing about this treaty was that it lasted for 24 years (Bedford, 143).  Of course, that time was not completely without problems with the Native Americans, as he related the capture of several people from other places, and their deaths and escapes and retaliations. However, I had not heard of this treaty before and I find it interesting, since my only views of the Puritans was that they tried to convert every Native American they met, and were very harsh against the rest. I have to wonder if it was Bradford’s religious leanings that lead to him making the treaty, or if it was just him being sensible. If he hadn’t made the treaty, there weren’t really any other options to “preserve the security of the colony” (Bedford, 125). I also would like to know why the treaty didn’t last longer. I think if more colonies had made treaties with the Native Americans, and kept to them, the history of the New World would not be as violent as it is. Maybe fewer people would have been killed, and fewer Native Americans would have been forced off their land. Or possibly nothing would have changed, since the terms of the treaty don’t say anything about land and ownership of it which was a big part of why the Native Americans lost so much.

The other reading that stood out was Wamsutta James’s speech from 1970. James is a Wampanoag Man and his speech is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. It is a sad and short recount of the Wampanoag history since the landing on Plymouth Rock by the Pilgrims, as told from the Wampanoag perspective. I don’t believe I’ve ever read anything substantial about the New World history from the Native American perspective. James clearly states his thoughts that the downfall of the Native Americans was due to the white man and his influences. He also admits that welcoming the white man “was perhaps our biggest mistake. We, the Wampanoag, welcomed you…little knowing that it was the beginning of the end” (Bedford, 150). He bluntly states things in a way that many white people wouldn’t want to hear, such as “the white man had a need to prove his worth by the amount of land that he owned” and “The Indian, having been stripped of his power, could only stand by and watch while the white man took his land and used it for his personal gain” (Bedford 150). However, after everything the white man did to the Wampanoag, after 350 years the Wampanoag are still ready to work with them and move forward as Indians. It is a very moving speech, and I wish more people would read it as part of American History courses.

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Reading week 2: The influence of Puritanism on literature in the 1600s

During the reading this week I was far more interested the second part that focused on the importance and growth of literature in the 1600s. This is a subject I’ve never really learned about. I’ve read several publications from the time in high school English, but I’ve never been taught the history about them. Or maybe I just didn’t pay attention back then. Regardless, the use of literature in the 1600s by the colonists in the New World was thought-provoking. A lot of the writings and accounts of the New World were false, or at least omitted several unsavory facts, and were designed to attract others there. Several reports of the new land were printed with illustrations showing a land abundant with resources and beautiful animals and plants, glorifying the New World as a type of paradise or new Eden. The truth was that during the first years of the colonies, there were many obstacles including “diseases, the shortage of food and other supplies, and the tense relations between the colonists and the native peoples” (Bedford, 95). Life was much more grim than depicted in such publications as John Smith’s A Map of Virginia, With a Description of the Countrey (1612).

One thing that really stood out to me was the extent to which the Puritans shaped the New World, and their influence on the literature and literacy rate of the time. Education was important to them mainly so everyone could read the bible. It was the Puritans that passed laws requiring all children to be educated. The Virginians, especially Sir William Berkeley, were the exact opposite. Berkeley himself said “learning has brought disobedience, and heresy, and sects into this world, and libels against the best government” (Bedford, 100). This seems ironic to me, since after some research online I discovered that Berkeley himself had an education from Oxford and St. Edmund Hall in England.* The English colonies didn’t even allow newspapers to be printed. If it were not for the Puritans, the Bible might not be around in the New World, and the literacy rate would not be as high. The Puritans even published their own books, such as the New England Primer, and had many poets and writers among them. They helped shape the New World in a much more impactful way than I ever thought.


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