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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
Topic: Culture of the Common Man
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: Culture of the Common Man
Text 1. Andrew Jackson
Text 2. Mark Twain
Text 3. Thomas W. Dorr
Text 4. Mechanics/Workers
Text 5. Richard Allen and David Walker
Text 6. Nathaniel Hawthorne
Text 7. James Fenimore Cooper
Text 8. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Text 9. John C. Calhoun
Text 10. Walt Whitman
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Reading Guide
10.  Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself," Sections 1 to 15; from Leaves of Grass, 1855

Are the issues raised in this section somehow reconciled in Whitman's poetry? If you select this text, you will have the opportunity to find out. Emerson wanted no masses at all, "no shovel-handed, narrow-brained, gin-drinking million stockingers or lazzaroni." Whitman, on the other hand, celebrated the masses, including the spinning girl who "retreats and advances to the hum of her big wheel" and the "newly-come immigrants" who "cover the wharf." Yet upon the publication of Leaves of Grass in 1855, Emerson hailed Whitman: "I greet you at the beginning of a great career." Whitman fulfilled Emerson's idea of the poet as inspired seer, "the man without impediment, who sees and handles that which others dream of, traverses the whole scale of experience, and is representative of man, in virtue of being the largest power to receive and to impart." What Whitman received and imparted was the raw experience of a democratic culture which he—standing "Apart . . . amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary"—elevated and transformed into art. 9 pages.

Discussion questions
  ·  What is Whitman's vision of America?
  ·  What would bring both the "stockinger" and Emerson to praise Whitman's poetry?
  ·  Does Whitman reconcile the tension between the individual and the mass? If so, how?
  ·  How does Whitman's poetry express the idea of equality, of democracy?
  ·  What is Whitman's notion of liberty? How is it expressed in both the content and form of "Song of Myself"?
  ·  "Song of Myself" was published in the middle of the stormy 1850s when the nation was witnessing the rise of the Know-Nothings, when immigrants were pouring into American cities, and when the nation was dividing over the expansion of slavery into the territories. In what way is the poem a response to these and other events of the period?

Reading highlights
  ·  Note the observational and reportorial quality of Whitman's poetry.

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Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did Americans respond to the emergence of a functioning democracy in which the majority of free adult males could vote?
  •  How did Northerners view the purposes of political rights and power?
  •  How did Southerners view them?

Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

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Revised: January 2002