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Sexual Stereotypes in Whitman’s Poem “Song of Myself”

Jun 23, 2023 | 0 comments

Jun 23, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

…. “The beards of the young men glistened with wet, it ran from, their long hair, little streams passed all over their bodies. An unseen hand also passed over their bodies; it descended tremblingly from their temples and ribs. The young men gloat on their backs, their white bellies bulge to the sun, they do not ask who seizes fast to them, They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bending arch, They do not think whom they souse with spray…”(Walt 11)

Whitman’s 1855 edition of Song of Myself is a display of American nationality. Whitman is one of the most revolutionary poets in America and a radical transcendentalist. He fought for democracy, equality and stood up for the rights of the marginalized in the society. Through his poems, he drove feelings and brought out emotions in his readers. The imagery the poem creates shares the American history of labor culture and shared and dissolving boundaries between people of different occupational categories. The occupations include musicians, lecturers, scientists, popular preachers, painters, and photographers just to mention a few. The poem takes the free verse form mimicking the argument of a unified country depending on individuality and diversity. The Song of Myself creates a race a distinctive expression that is not based on color or heritage but is based on shared characteristics of the American Experience. The poem further has elements of sexuality such as homosexuality heterosexuality and auto sexuality, which was forbidden in the 19th Century. This paper shall discuss Whitman’s Songs of Myself and how it persuades the reader to look beyond gender stereotypes that prevailed in the 19th Century in America.


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Whitman starts by naming himself the object of the poem. He recognizes his effort and associates the success and parts of him to the reader. He uses the symbol of his naked self to symbolize the fusion of the world around him. His self -image is the image of America and nature. He uses several professionals he meets and says that these people make up his own self-image. Whitman uses both the collectivity and individuality ideas, collective ideas include the catalog. The collection of people he meets forms part of himself that is separate from his individuality. Whitman describes American democracy as grass. He says a child comes to him and inquires about the grass. He has no definite answer and cannot fully describe grass for a better understanding of the child. He can only say that he sees the grass everywhere he goes. These themes of collectiveness and individuality described by Whitman’s Political argument suggest that categorizes them as the important ingredients for the achievement of democracy in America.

Whitman then describes the encounters of the body and soul and informs the reader that the two cannot be separated. He tells his soul to settle upon him and undress and reach inside of him feeling his feet. He says that is the only way he can achieve personal peace and relate to others as brothers and sisters. Further, Whitman gives the reader a parable of a young woman who watches several men take a bath and looks through the window of her house to admire them. The woman has sexual fantasies of her own. She then goes down to take a shower with them but the men cannot see her nor feel her hand as it brushes over their bodies.

The Sexual Stereotypes in Song of Myself

Whitman’s poems were about sexuality. Different from this century the 19th century had its own kind of strictness when it came to people who did not display normal sexuality. The attitude towards sexuality was also negative since it was not openly talked about. Sexuality was a taboo topic and was either a disgrace or a scandal. Speaking on sexuality topics, childhood experience especially on their relationship with the fathers. Roethke contributes to an expression of feelings and other forms of expression was an abomination. Sex was rarely mentioned especially in churches; women were expected to put on clothes that covered their legs, heads, and arms. Contrary, at the time prostitution and Pornography, was highly dominant and Whitman used his artistic skills to address the double standards that allowed prostitution and Pornography but frowned at sexual relations between persons of the same sex.

In the eleventh section of the Poem, Whitman describes a young woman who watches twenty-eight young men bathing in the ocean. The woman has fantasies about joining them. Whitman describes the semi-nude bodies of the young men in detail. The eroticism and sexuality in this poem section reinforce the normal sexual attraction between persons of the different sex, man, and woman. The idea of sexual contact allows the people involved to become one yet offers the superiority idea. Whitman does not explain whether this woman is married or unmarried. She has intimate desires and pleasures. Whitman only explains that the woman is lonely, like the present time’s loneliness is not restricted to the unmarried population of the Americans in the nineteenth century. The woman looks at the men from her window as she tries to shield herself. The woman is said to be the house owner and this tells the reader of her financial independence. She is also richly dressed. She leaves her house to join the young men this describes her transgressed actions. Walt Whitman writes about the woman’s sexual desires that bind her to the young men. The young men are happy in her presence and the woman is in return happy in their presence. The speaker in the poem is thus both the young man and the woman and enjoys both experiences creating a double sexed vision.

In Song of Myself, the erotic scenes described by Whitman leave the reader not sure of their partners in the sexual escapades. Another sexual stereotype portrayed in Songs of Myself is homosexuality. As mentioned earlier sexual relations among persons of the same was frowned upon in the 19th Century. Most homosexuals hid and did not want even their closes family members to know of the sexual escapades. Currently, however, homosexually is becoming widely accepted, we either choose to accept it or engage in it. Song of Myself describes sexual desires and contains elements of Homoeroticism. In the Eleventh stanza, Whitman takes the voice of a woman and describes the bodies of the young men as they bathe. Whitman destabilizes both the male and female genders and uses them as his poetic and lyrical subject. Throughout this paragraph, Whitman fosters the fluidity of sexuality. At the end of the Song of Myself, he says that he fell and stopped to wait. Proving the reality of forbidden passions between, two men.


In conclusion, therefore, Whitman’s Song of Myself represents different sexual stereotypes that existed in the 19th Century. Examples of the stereotypes include homosexuality, Heterosexuality, Auto sexuality elements. The eleventh stanza particularly discusses and describes the sexual escapades using a parable.

Works Cited

Walt, Whitman “Songs of Myself.” The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry. Ed. Jay Parini. New York: Columbia University Press, 19955. 181-202. Print

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