Walt Whitman: Poems

Personal Desire, Societal Expectation: Whitman on Religion and Sexuality College

“The individual has always had to struggle to keep from being overwhelmed by the tribe. If you try it, you will be lonely often, and sometimes frightened. But no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself” - Friedrich Nietzsche.

As a member of society, one is encouraged - often through media, legislation, and cultural tradition - to meet certain social and behavioral expectations. The disregard of these social “norms,” which attempt to make human behavior more predictable through the standardization thereof, are what made author and poet Walt Whitman controversial in his time; he defied both individual and literary conformity throughout his work, choosing instead to personify the gap between personal desire and societal expectation. In his protracted and intimate epic Song of Myself, Walt Whitman reflects on this gap, specifically through the lenses of religion, or the lack thereof, and sexual imagery in his writing.

Born and raised in the early nineteenth-century, a time of political turbulence and white, evangelical supremacy, Whitman, influenced by the notions of deism, chose to respect all religions but follow none. “Jehovah… Kronos… Osiris… Brahma, Buddha… Manito... Allah... the crucifix engraved… Odin...

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