Revised Draft – open to peer review

Whitman’s Writing in the Psychological Sense

At the moment, psychology is scientifically defined as the study of behavior and mental processes (Myers and DeWall 9). Since psychology is still undergoing exponential growth and development, the field is ever-changing. Therefore, some people like to describe psychology as the study of individual differences. We can find out multiple facets of ourselves just by briefly looking into the field. From specific human behaviors resulting from the body’s regulation of hormones to the evolutionarily disposed fundamental attribution error that humans experience to simultaneously keep themselves uplifted but close-minded, psychology can explain it all. With that said, I am curious as to how different factors in our life can influence the way that we view the environment, our experiences, and other people. In particular, I feel it necessary to look at a specific type of person whilst doing this research: the humanist. Humanistic people are able to keep an all-inclusive mind and stay open to differing opinions on multiple topics. In a world where so many people experience rigidity, it is crucial for a person to have many positive and diverse experiences while at home and outside in the world in order to function on a higher level. This can be attributed to Whitman, a precursor for environmentalism who writes about his own enlightening philosophies in his poem “Song of Myself.” By exploring his background and work in detail, one can find the key to his (as well as other humanists’) temperament and figure out the genetic and environmental dispositions it takes for a person to function like him.

Walter “Walt” Whitman was born on May 31, 1819, to a family living on a farm in Long Island, New York that had been raised for years past by ancestors. He belonged to two parents: his father, the original Walter Whitman, who was a “silent, troubled-looking man, wrathful upon occasion” (Perry 5), also described as relentless and often dissatisfied (Perry 11), as well as a loving mother, Louisa Van Velsor, who was once a daring young woman that eventually transformed into an even-tempered house wife when she had children. As one would expect, Whitman favored his mother more, even claiming to have inherited his writing gift from her despite her illiteracy. Both descriptions of his parents give me the idea that they would have worked as a unity to enforce an “authoritarian parenting style” in their household. The father would function more on the confrontive side, making him highly demanding of his son to succeed in what he demands him to. I can see Whitman’s mother being more on the kind side of the spectrum, being more likely to encourage him to negotiate and discuss his issues or needs with her. Both parenting aspects I have described create “authoritative” parenting, which very often produces children with high self-esteem and social competence (Myers and DeWall 189-190), which can be seen in Whitman’s overall personality.

It is stated that despite having nine siblings, “Walt,” Whitman’s childhood nickname and later pseudonym, was the only to “show any marked intellectual or moral stamina” (Perry 9). Although it is difficult to precisely pinpoint why this is, it could be due to the numerous factors that influence intelligence, primarily heritability, the likelihood of inheriting it as a trait, and the quality of attention given to one as a child (Myers and DeWall 378-380). Since Whitman was the second person born out of his siblings, it is likely that he benefits from both factors.

When he was four, his family moved to Brooklyn, the place that he would grow up in a world of self-discovery. To start off with, he and his family could tell that he loved exploring as a hobby rather than other traditionally “manly” sports like fishing and shooting (Perry 12). When he started schooling, Whitman did not see the purpose of getting an underdeveloped education, causing him to quit attending when he was thirteen. This helped him to find out what he truly loved doing since he was able to undertake jobs that would place him around different forms of literature such as erranding at a lawyer’s office and type-setting for a Brooklyn paper (Perry 14-15). This eventually lead to him becoming a compositor, a job that he would soon find a great fondness for, in New York (Perry 16).

Despite enjoying working as a compositor, Whitman became a school teacher by the time he became eighteen, which did not last long due to him finding more enjoyment working in the world of literature.  Nevertheless, this ambitious venture leads us to where the first main interpersonal connection of this paper comes into play. Charles A. Roe, a past pupil, is able to describe Whitman’s teaching style. It is claimed that he was more passive than other teachers in a setting where strict discipline was common. Known as very kind to all of his students, he was always seen outdoors playing with them at recess (Perry 16-17). Whitman also taught his students orally, contrasting from most teachers that worked at that school, since it was more normal to teach from the book. This creativity combined with his kindness made many of his students attached to him. (Traubel 110). Coincidentally, Whitman seems to exhibit all five components that make up how high one’s creativity level is. First is expertise, or well-developed knowledge. Even though Whitman did not finish school, he developed a knack for writing during the majority of the different careers he held. He was also proficient enough in math to teach it to essentially high school students. Next is imaginative thinking skills, which I believe to tie into the next few factor: a venturesome personality and creative environment. Since Whitman was able to explore around as a child, he was able to let his imagination run free and explore different abstract options. The final aspect is intrinsic motivation. One can already tell that he only works jobs that he enjoys doing, which marks the final qualification that proves him to truly be creative (Myers and DeWall 340).

After his brief teaching career, he decided to start his own small-run newspaper, which would eventually become the Long Islander (Perry 18). This is what finally helped him transition into his writing career. Perry stated that “none of Whitman’s early prose possesses any high degree of literary merit. But it is marked by a strong ethical sense and especially by sympathy with the poor and suffering” (28). While referencing Song of Myself, Perry goes on to state that multiple critics believe “its author… hit upon a mode of expression which would hide his weakness as a craftsman” (31). This statement ultimately prevails when one looks for the main reason as to why Whitman’s writing is so enjoyable; the humanism he naturally exhibits is genuine and felt by his readers. This intimate exchange of emotions allows his writing to resonate with the common people just as easily as he is able to state, “I celebrate myself” (Whitman 1).

Despite his work being such an important piece of American literature, there is a lot of controversy over Whitman’s values of humanism. A fellow author, James Thomson states what many readers are thinking, “He sings himself with long-unequalled arrogance” (Miller 45). On the other hand, multiple other authors and people tend to say that this arrogance purely exudes the American individualism of its time. I believe that this work has much more confidence and love rather than arrogance. He writes, “For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you” (Whitman 1) to show that he views everyone as equal. Whitman also goes into depth on this: “Clear and sweet is my soul… and clear and sweet is all that is not my soul” (3). To even further prove this, Whitman recounts an encounter with an African American slave, which is most likely a true experience since he lived through the American Civil War. He mentions to the reader how he found the slave in a weak state and proceeded to bring the man into his house for a week and nurse him back to health. “I had him sit next me at table… my firelock leaned in the corner” (Whitman 8). This is pure proof that he will freely preach and value equality.

Another factor that multiple people enjoy about his writing is that he goes far beyond the simple idea of equality by stating that he wants to go as far as to share his own confidence. Whitman states, “I believe in you my soul… the other I am must not abase itself to you, and you must not be abased by others” (4). He is actively encouraging his audience to learn from his views of himself. It is simple to find the message that one should always believe in themselves just as Whitman has trusted himself, as he has persevered through life and lived to the fullest by always taking the path that he wants to. Lastly, a quote that furthers this confidence that Whitman holds in mankind is, “The scent of these arm-pits is aroma finer than prayer” (22). To begin with, he was not raised to be religious, which is most likely why he was okay with publishing this line. Whitman is trying to state that to be human, to live, is to be divine and that everyone is just as equally divine and worthy of growth and happiness as their worshipped religion.

At the core of his work is also some substance on nature, since he was a precursor to the environmental movement. A large portion of this is how Whitman encourages his readers to go out and have some experiences within the natural world rather than just becoming complacent with society. He states, “Houses and rooms are full of perfumes… The atmosphere is not a perfume… It is in my mouth forever… I am in love with it” (Whitman 1). Whitman even acknowledges how luxurious a life living purely inside is, but still takes the initiative to advise his audience against it. Additionally, a rather interesting point that Whitman makes is that humans have the ability to learn from nature and creatures. We have to find the opportunities and take them. He describes how animals seem to function higher than man; however, instead of degrading mankind for all of its flaws, he seems to still use his tone of humanism. Whitman states that farm animals do not whine about their poor conditions or suffer from greed and that they don’t “kneel to another or to his kind” (28). As a whole entity, “Song of Myself” promotes a wonderful humanistic view of nature and humankind that everyone needs to witness.

A large part of the appeal to this book is the humanism portrayed within it. I believe that every psychological aspects of Whitman that I have discussed interplay here in order to print these values onto the book’s paper: His self-esteem and social competency help him to not only exude confidence in himself, but also confidence in other people, showing his audience that he genuinely cares. If anything, I believe that Whitman most likely achieved self-actualization in his lifetime as a writer. Drive theory, the idea in psychology that multiple physiological aspects of life motivate humans to live, states that there is a hierarchy of needs. It states that humans have multiple needs on the basic level and that once they obtain those needs, they can move onto higher levels of demand. At the base, there is physiological needs, such as the desire to satisfy hunger and thirst. The second highest level from the top is a need that almost no one is able to achieve: self-actualization, the need to live up to your full potential. With Whitman’s writings, he has definitely gotten to this point before passing away. This analysis on Whitman greatly helps us to understand the multiple interworkings of their minds that help to qualify them as some of the greatest and most influential people to exist in our society.

Sources Cited

Miller, Edwin H. Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself”: A Mosaic of Interpretations. U of Iowa P, 1989.

The content of this book is described as “a running commentary on the poem almost line for line” by the author. Whitman’s “Song of Myself” is discussed here in great detail and clarity; the author pulls in multiple different sources and compiles their comments on the work in order to help the reader make better sense of the original poetry as laid out by Whitman. I used this source to help me better understand the views on the natural world that most scholars believed Whitman to hold.

 

Myers, David G., and C. Nathan DeWall. Psychology. 12th ed., Macmillan, 2018.

Since psychology is exponentially growing and evolving, the most current sources possible must be used while writing about the scientific subject in order for a work to have prevalence with the year and period it was written in. For this reason, I used the most current published version of the Macmillan General Psychology textbook. Because of this book, I was able to cite factual evidence and vocabulary of psychology in my writing.

 

Perry, Bliss. Walt Whitman: His Life and Work. London: Archibald Constable, Boston and New York: Houghton, Mifflin, 1906.

This piece delves into detail about specific portions of Whitman’s life, providing a lot of substance to digest and talk about in reference to the psychological aspect of Whitman that I would like to discuss. Within Chapter 1: A Child Went Forth, one can read about the household that Whitman was brought up in as well as the different personalities of his parents and how he recalls both of them. This book also provides an account of how the American Civil War affected him along with all of the different career changes he undertook throughout his life. I gained more insight to the events that helped to shape his temperament and views over the span of his life.

 

Traubel, Horace L. “Walt Whitman, Schoolmaster: Notes of a Conversation with Charles A. Roe, 1894.” Whitman in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Memoirs, and Interviews by Friends and Associates, edited by Joel Myerson, Omnigraphics, 1991, pp. 109-116.

Including a chronological timeline of important events as well as accounts of and interviews from Whitman, this book makes for a descriptive piece about his entire life. This helped me to effectively determine what Whitman’s past was like in reference to what was happening in American history. It also gives me the ability to read about the ways that people view him as well as the different relationships that Walt Whitman held towards specific individuals, which in this instance is his student Charles A. Roe.

 

Whitman, Walt. Song of Myself. Dover Publications, edited by Susan L. Rattiner, 2001.

By using the original unabridged version of my subject’s texts, I was able to pull examples of Whitman’s environmental views straight from his own writing.

One Reply to “Revised Draft – open to peer review”

  1. Ivy!!! I really like your paper. It is informational. While your thesis is more than one sentence, it is good! I had learned to do long thesis statements in school as well (I still am not very good at them lol). I really like where your paper is going

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