Wednesday, February 29, 2012

My Job Does Not Define Me

I believe that the following lines from Whitman’s A Song for Occupations capture the essence of the poem as a whole: “Were I as the head teacher, charitable proprietor, wise statesman, what would it amount to?/ Were I to you as the boss employing and paying/  you, would that satisfy you?”(45). I interpreted these lines to represent Whitman’s rejection of materialism. When I left my decent-paying job at Ernst & Young to pursue a career in teaching, I often felt disconnected from the final product that I was producing at my job. Ultimately, this disconnection led to dissatisfaction and me turning in my letter of resignation. The joy that I felt while writing the letter and submitting it to the Human Resources department is what I believe the answer to the questions that Walt’s speaker asserts. Getting paid well was no longer satisfying and I needed more. I had reached the proverbial glass ceiling. Whereas Whitman’s Song of Myself was a celebration of occupations, places and all things American, I believe Whitman is rejecting the idea of being defined by any occupation.

Whitman destroys the notion of any one profession being more prestigious than another by asserting:
Because you are greasy or pimpled – or that you was once drunk, or a thief,/ or diseased, or rheumatic, or a prostitute – or are so now – or from frivolity or /impotence – or that you are no scholar, and never saw your name in print…./ do you give in that you are any less immortal? (46)

In making this assertion, Whitman has essentially dismisses the idea that some professions are more valuable than others. While I believe that Whitman does appreciate every occupation, it seems that he values equality amongst professions more. I believe evidence of this can be found with the placement of the poem in the 1856 version of Leaves of Grass. Whitman places the poem after A Poem of Women and Poem of Salutations and changes the title to Poem of The Daily Work of The Workmen and Workwomen of These States. While this subtle change may seem insignificant, I believe the title change and placement location reveals the positions that each subject holds within Walt’s own value hierarchy. Walt moves from self to women to greeting and then occupations. In the same vein, I believe that Leaves of Grass moves from the internal Whitman to the Whitman that exists within all of us.  

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