We cannot verify your location
Browse Book and Journal Content on Project MUSE

Walt Whitman and the Class Struggle

Andrew Lawson

Publication Year: 2006

By reconsidering Whitman not as the proletarian voice of American diversity but as a historically specific poet with roots in the antebellum lower middle class, Andrew Lawson in Walt Whitman and the Class Struggle defines the tensions and ambiguities about culture, class, and politics that underlie his poetry.Drawing on a wealth of primary sources from across the range of antebellum print culture, Lawson uses close readings of Leaves of Grass to reveal Whitman as an artisan and an autodidact ambivalently balanced between his sense of the injustice of class privilege and his desire for distinction. Consciously drawing upon the languages of both the elite culture above him and the vernacular culture below him, Whitman constructed a kind of middle linguistic register that attempted to filter these conflicting strata and defuse their tensions: “You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, / You shall listen to all sides and filter them from yourself.” By exploring Whitman's internal struggle with the contradictions and tensions of his class identity, Lawson locates the source of his poetic innovation. By revealing a class-conscious and conflicted Whitman, he realigns our understanding of the poet's political identity and distinctive use of language and thus valuably alters our perspective on his poetry.

Published by: University of Iowa Press


pdf iconDownload PDF


pdf iconDownload PDF


pdf iconDownload PDF

read more


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. vii-viii

In its early stages the research for this book was supported by sabbatical leave and a travel grant given by the School of Humanities and Social Sciences at Staffordshire University. My colleagues in English gave generous practical support by taking up additional teaching and administration during my absence....


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. ix-x

read more

Introduction: The Whitman Myth

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. xi-xxiv

On July 4, 1855, a curious new volume could be found on Nassau Street, New York, on sale at two dollars. The book was of an unusual, quarto size and bound in dark green pebbled cloth. The title, Leaves of Grass, was stamped on the cover in gold letters that, somewhat incongruously, sprouted a pro-fusion of leaves and sent down a dense tangle of roots. Anyone browsing at...

read more

1 Sex, Class, and Commerce

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 1-28

Whitman hoped to orchestrate the entry of Leaves of Grass into literary history through a series of self-publicizing acts. For the first edition of 1855, he placed the portrait of himself by Samuel Hollyer opposite the title page. The portrait shows Whitman...

read more

2 The American 1848

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 29-55

So begins “Song of Myself,” Whitman’s extraordinary, and extraordinarily presumptuous, poem. Leaving aside the many layers of presumption for a moment, I want to draw attention to a muted but nevertheless insistent conflict between competing...

read more

3 The Class Struggle in Language

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 57-99

He leaves houses and their shuttered rooms, for the open air. He drops disguise and ceremony, and walks forth with the confidence and gayety of a child. For the old decorums of writing he substitutes his own decorums. . . . [T]he rules of polite circles are dismissed with scorn....

read more

Postscript: Material Resistance

pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 101-104

Language, in Whitman’s poetry, is treated in a new way. A long time ago now, Constance Rourke noted how Whitman “used language as a new and plastic and even comical medium,” one in which effects of disjunction and incongruity between linguistic registers are exploited for the purposes of humor.1 The fundamentally...


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 105-136


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 137-152


pdf iconDownload PDF
pp. 153-157

E-ISBN-13: 9781587296703
E-ISBN-10: 1587296705
Print-ISBN-13: 9780877459736
Print-ISBN-10: 0877459738

Page Count: 186
Publication Year: 2006

OCLC Number: 216935098
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Walt Whitman and the Class Struggle

Research Areas


UPCC logo

Subject Headings

  • Whitman, Walt, 1819-1892 -- Political and social views.
  • Social conflict in literature.
  • Literature and society -- United States -- History -- 19th century.
  • Social classes in literature.
  • You have access to this content
  • Free sample
  • Open Access
  • Restricted Access