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Walt Whitman and Dostoyevsky: The human identity

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 1539 words Published: 11th Apr 2017

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The portrayal of the human identity in the poems of Walt Whitman and Dostoyevsky:

Literature plays an important role in the society that is not only related to the level of entertainment. Through the various genres of literature, we can represent ideas to the society through the specific thematic issues raised within the fabric of the texts. Poetry serves the same purpose in the society. Through the use of beauty in the language such as the symbolic sound give the genre an entertaining perspective. Aside from the entertainment, the ideas of the poet about the society are equally presented. The opinions of the writer about a specific subject such as the personal identity and its implication in a society are possible views that can be intertwined in the themes texts. The poems of Walt Whitman and the novella by Dostoyevsky are no exceptions. It is possible that the authors' use of the thematic issues is a portrayal of their opinions about the society. Here, I examine the possible difference or similarity in the portrayal of human identity in the works by the two authors. Specifically the works that are selected for this analysis are the poems A noiseless patient spider, the song of myself and A Sight in Camp all by Walt Whitman. Notes from the underground are the work by Dostoyevsky that will be looked at here.

Thesis: Non-conformity and independence are used as the major formulators of personal identity in the works of Walt Whitman and Dostoyevsky.

Non-conformity is taken in this paper to mean the lack of respect or appreciation for societal expectations. It means that the social obligations and the desire to be free from societal expectation will make a person have the propensity to be independent. This independence is the key factor that will shape the identity of persons in a society.

When a child asks the persona about grass in the poem song of myself, the persona could not give an answer about the same question. This sends him wondering in thought in a journey that takes him through the continent of America (Whitman, 56). His epic journey in thought makes him fall in love with nature and he does believe that there is nothing bad that will not contribute to a positive outcome in the system that is nature. Transcendental philosophy and the freedom of thought, in this case, is what informs the persona's identity. The persona develops an opinion of the world through the examination of the different aspects of the society in thought. the cause this is that it is easier to construct the possibilities of the society through the mind.

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In notes from the underground, the author's intent is to show that through the use of conscious thinking, the personality of an individual can be formed. The narrator, in this case, informs us that the ability to take revenge is in fact not a possibility to him. This is driven by his ability to construct and analyse the possibilities of the action. He believes that the consequences of his actions could lead to other disasters that can be of even more consequences. As a result, the persona opts to do simply nothing but imagine things in the society. This makes him unable to confront his colleagues despite the fact that they have clearly shown that they despised him. The norm in any society is that if anything is wrong, the obligation is on the people living in this society to make changes to the same effect.

The use of imagination and the resultant utopia created by the imaginations can also be seen as shaping the identity of the persona in notes from the underground. The persona believes that he could escape from the overall boredom created by work and interpersonal relation through the use of a mental process or imagination on the same. This position can be taken from the fact that the main desire of the persona is to be independent of any external forces that shape the relationships that he had in society. In the poetic works of Whitman especially the A Noiseless Patient Spider, the persona envisions his soul wandering in a vast open space of the ocean while he stands on a promontory (Whitman, 405). The idea that is being projected in the text here is the independence and the lack of influence of any other societal factors like interpersonal relationships. In reality, the possibility of the existence of no factors to influence the thinking or the actions of an individual is a societal impossibility. The author, therefore, uses a level of lack of conformity and adherence to societal norms in these works. The only possibility of the lack of any interference in the society is if there is no individual living with the persona in the same society.

A Sight in Camp is also a poem that is used by Whitman to further the ideal of wishful thinking and independence from the social norms. In this poem, the author knows that it is possible for members of different ages and sex to experience suffering occasioned by disease. Still, the author deliberately talks of a faceless perfection and lack of suffering even in a medical camp (Whitman 276). The author's intent is to make us imagine that there is a society in which all the suffering is not present and that people do not recognise each other from a physical perspective. The assumption that the author is also driving here is that there is a possibility of achieving the level of equity that appreciates all beings as perfectly similar regardless of age and social standings.

In notes from the underground, the author takes a different approach to dealing with the society, suffering and utopia. The author opines that it is possible that the level of suffering brought about by the different factors in a society could be the norm. However, the use of science and the rationality is a major cause for the deviation of the norm. The persona argues that through suffering, it is possible to have an individual to receive honour or ennoblement. This ennoblement or honour could be what the normal individual would want for themselves and identity. The deviation from this normal point and the lessening of suffering by scientists and rationalists is the cause of a strive towards a utopian society.

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The argument that the author proposes here is also related to the independence of choice. In a society that the realists and the scientists are constantly working towards making life better, the common man is left with no other choice. The desire to experience anything in life like work and social life is constantly challenged by the idea that are floated by the members of these bodies. The result is that everyone is whipped away from what they so desire and instead moved towards what other people think is ideal. The result is that their personal identity is changed through conforming to these norms but their independence to choose is denied.

In conclusion, the main area of discussion in this article concerned the use of non-conformity to societal norms and the level of effect of independence in the creation of personal identity. A review of the works by the two authors reveals a level of similarity in approaches given to the subject of identity in the texts. In all the works, transcendental philosophy underpins the formation of the identity of the persona of the work. According to Dostoyevsky, the use of imagination or conscious thinking has led the persona not to act in any way to change the situation that is prevailing. Despite him realising that it could be wrong or the situation is not right, the consequences of the action hold the persona back. It also affects the level of independence that the author has regarding the ability to make choices on the actual desires like escaping from boredom. Whitman also uses the same philosophy in determining the identity of the persona in most of the works. According to the author, the epic mental journey that is provoked by a Childs question about grass (Whitman 56) has led to a lot of discoveries. The nature of the personal self is among the things that the persona has discovered in the process. Much of the idea that, therefore, shapes the identity of the persona are therefore brought out in a transcendent way.

The only difference is in the way the authors handle the concept of the ideal society and the independence to choose a personal identity. In notes from the underground, the persona opines that the choice of the members of the society is not independent. It argues that the choice is as a result of the scientific view of a utopian society. Whitman in contrast feels that it is highly necessary to have a utopian society where everyone is equal, there is no suffering. This idea is explicitly projected in A noiseless patient spider (Whitman 405). It is, therefore, important to conclude that both the authors employ the use of non-conformity and independence as the major formulators of the identity of individuals.

Works cited

Dostoevsky, Fyodor. Notes from the Underground. Broadview Press, 2014.

Whitman, Walt. The Complete Poems of Walt Whitman. Wordsworth Editions, 1995.


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