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Walt Whitman

In: English and Literature

Submitted By estern5
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Essay on Whitman and Cunningham
Society, just a word that most people use to describe the people around them and the population, holds the meaning of so much more. Society always appears to be used in negative context, because normally, it is used to describe a stereotype. The world is fully of stereotypes that are created by the opinions of everyday people, members of our society. Society can be portrayed in many ways, but it is how it is shown that counts. Michael Cunningham in his works of “In The Machine” and “Children’s Crusade”, and Walt Whitman in his poem “Song Of Myself” portray society as a murderer and their characters as the victims. Through interpretations and descriptions, their journeys and victimizations are brought to life through the literature. The ways in which society affects each person are shown in “In The Machine” as Lucas falls to industrialization, in “Song of Myself” as the reader discovers society’s true effects, in “Children’s Crusade” as Cat breaks away from society and finds her true happiness, and in “Song of Myself” as stereotypes are formed by society.
Throughout the story, In The Machine, by Michael Cunningham, the main character, Lucas falls victim to society and its expectations. Lucas is just an average boy trying to get by during the course of the industrial revolution. Throughout the course of this period, people in society began to realize how technology was going to take over their lives. Lucas, became very involved in machines, he began working with machines, and eventually obsessed with machines. What the story does not describe is how society was very accepting of machines and new technology, and how society was not accepting of those who did not accept machinery and technology. Also, society compares you to that of your elders. Because Lucas’ brother, Simon, was such a high quality worker, Lucas was expected to be the same. Lucas describes the work area “There were no clocks, no daylight”(Cunningham 19). Lucas does not seem to be enjoying himself, however it is clear that he has become a victim when Lucas thinks, “The work demanded attention. He entered a state of waking sleep, an ongoing singularity of purpose, in which his mind was filled with that which must fill it, to the exclusion of all else” (Cunningham 20). At first it seems as though Lucas is just not enjoying himself but in actuality he is forced to work just as hard as his brother and fulfill societies expectations.
Like Cunningham, Walt Whitman also uses his characters in order to describe how society hurts everyday people. Examples of how he does this can be found in his book “ Leave of Grass”, specifically within the story, the poem “Song of Myself”. Whitman describes how the opinion of even people you don’t know, can completely affect you. Although, it seems realistic to not care what other people think of you, it is inevitable. Throughout “Song of Myself”, Whitman uses the second person, in order to help the reader feel as though they are a part of the story and can connect with what he is writing. In this way, the reader recognizes the effects of society on their lives, if they had not yet realized it. For example in poem four of the story Whitman writes, “Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am, stands amused, complacent, compassionating, idle, unitary, looks down, is erect, or bends an arm on an impalpable certain rest…” (Whitman 26). This quote, is a description about how, when looked at from a single persons view, society seems higher than them, and each feeling that society feels, affects each person individually, and in that way, we are all victims.
In Cunningham’s second story in Specimen Days, named the Children’s Crusade, society deeply affects a woman who I merely trying to get by, doing her job. The main character, named Cat, is a black woman living in New York City, working in a police department, taking the calls for emergencies. Cat begins to get numerous calls from what appears to be a group of assassins. Instead of red flagging the issue, Cat investigates the bombings on her own. Unlike the other stories, Cat had already become a victim of society, as she worked long hours in the department and led the life of a normal woman in New York City. Rather than continuing to be affected by society Cat breaks off and does the unthinkable, she leaves with the assassins. This shows that Cat breaks the normal cycle because she does not let what society would think change her mind. Cat thinks, “ He had ended her life, and taken her into a new one, this crazy rebirth, hurdling forward on a train into the vast confusion of the world…” (Cunningham 214). Cat, has become a happier person because she has broken off from society, and ignored what they truly believed. Society brings people down, and by escaping it; it can be believed that Cat will lead a better happier life because she has escaped society and its limits.
Finally, Society can be shown as judgmental through everyday people, in Whitman’s “Song of Myself”. Not only is society condescending, but it is judgmental too. Society creates stereotypes for many people, and without even realizing it; they perfectly fit that, not because they want to but because they feel they have to. Whether its through a job, or just their role in life, each person does exactly what society has played their role out to be. For example, Whitman writes, “ The conductor beats time for the band and all the performers follow him, the child is baptized, the convert is making his first professions” (Whitman 35). Society has created these stereotypes of what each person’s role is in their life and in their community, and without even being asked, they follow it. Not realizing, maybe, but definitely without question, all of society’s decisions go without question, and that in fact is the problem.
Through the many writings and works of Michael Cunningham and Walt Whitman, the effects of society on everyday people are portrayed. The restrictions and expectations of society on people do not allow people do be individuals. However, it is not realized by a majority of the general public because they are doing what is expected of them and not questioning it in the slightest. The fear created by these authors is meant for them, for it is feared that they will never get to be what they could truly become. Society today holds today’s people to such high standards that other people will actually shun people if they do not exceed those standards. The outcomes of the effects of society and its limitations are sad, and will hopefully, soon, be demolished.…...

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