The World Expanding and Moving Together Simultaneously in 19th-Century America

Parallels in Dickinson's and Whitman's Poetry and Lives

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2010

19 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Contents:

1. Introduction

2. Discovering the „New World“ in the 19th century - “getting b igger”

3. Walt Whitman's participation in discovering the world

4. Territorial expansion in Whitman's poetry

5. The world “getting smaller” by communication and transportation

6. Spatiality in Emily Dickinson's life

7. Dickinson's poetry as poetry of the small world

8. Perception of the American spatiality in German poetry

9. Conclusion

10. Works cited

1. Introduction

The 19th century was a time of changes for the developed part of the world. Industrialization and all its impacts led to completely new structures in the people's lives, including the working and the private life. The speed and extend of change reached an outstanding dimension in the “New World” of America. As a result of the comparab ly young age of America, there was a lot of room for changes - figuratively and literally. The huge masses of land were only discovered partially and now modern technologies, paired with the dauntless exploratory spirit of American settlers allowed to push the b oundaries and make the world getting b igger.

At the same time, there was a development originating out of the same sources - industrial and technological development - but effecting a figuratively contrary but not counteractive movement: Means of communication, information and the inexorably growing knowledge of mankind made the world move together and overcompensated the literal expansion of the masses of “new land”. To express these contrary but also corresponding movements in one simple sentence: The world was getting bigger and getting smaller simultaneously.

Like the American history shows this amb iguity in the development of spatiality, American poetry offers parallels to underline both mentioned movements and to let them become manifest in fitting poetical words. Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman are two American poets who couldn't be more different on the first sight. What unifies them doubtlessly, is that beyond all differences, both are typical American poets of the 19th-century America. This association with the young nation results amongst others of a strong link which exemplarily connects each of them with one of the different spatiality concepts of the American history personally and through their poetry.

The aims of this thesis are to first clarify the two important spatiality developments of getting bigger and getting smaller by depicting their sources in American history. Next, the personal connection of the two American poets with the American spatiality movements will be estab lished first by a look at the path of life of both. Second, the parallels will be clarified further by an analysis of Dickinson's and Whitman's poetry respectively by a detailed look on selected poems. Because both poets aren't simple and predictab le characters, but somehow universal minds, the proof of a link to the two spatiality movements will be completed with a pointing out of the exceptions, as Dickinson and Whitman both show correlations to the development actually regarded to be an example for the other poet.

Finally, to consider an outside perspective of the 19th century development in America, we will incorporate the German perception of the “New World's” movement within German poetry by looking at some poetical examples.

2. Discovering the „New World“ in the 19th century - “getting bigger”

The 19th century was a century of change for a b ig part of the world. An especially intensive wave of change went over the “New World” America. As a natural cause of the young age of this new country after its first discovery through Christopher Columb us in 1492 (after other meanwhile known first sightings by other explorers) and the following settlement by European colonial powers, the continent still offered huge masses of unexplored land in the 18th century. These resources of expansion for the new nation of America were now seized b it by b it - some in a peaceful way, more in a martially and b rutal way, some for private interests, more politically.

The result of the settlement of the new continent by several different nation was, that all of these nations claimed tenures for different parts of the land. Moreover, the new American government already had the aim to create a union of preferab ly connected land as big as possible. So these claims had to be fought for - what sometimes resulted in b loody wars. The success of the United States against the British Empire in the war of 1812 which was declared by the US out of multiple reasons was a crucial success for the independence of the United States and started the so called “Era of Good Feelings” (Belohlavek 92), which included an inexorab le expansion of the United States' territory. In 1810, the US annexed Western Florida, Alab ama and Louisiana, Monroe succeeded against Russian claims and ensured Oregon for the US in 1823, the territory of eastern Florida was negotiated with Spain and finally won by the US for the equivalent of 5 million dollars (Belohlavek 92). Spain also renounced the whole territory north of Carolina and enab led the US to have a new transcontinental b order. Other territorial differences couldn't be resolved peacefully as the Mexican War shows, in which the US fought against Mexico and finally succeeded with the result that the US territory grew by Texas, California and New Mexico. These arejust a couple of examples for the political way of enlargement of the United States.

A much more physical sight of territorial growth in contrast to the mere repartition on the map are the real movements of adventurous people into areas never seen before by any man.

One example for a pioneering expedition into the unknown west of the new continent is the Lewis and Clark expedition. In the years from 1804 to 1806 Meriwether Lewis and William Clark led the first expedition to the pacific coast and b ack which included a crossing of the Rocky Mountains and in which they discovered important new routes to settle the west of the continent (

In the 1840s, great waves of immigration swashed over America. For the immigrants, there were several reasons for leaving their native countries like famines, political crises or wars, repression but mainly economical reasons (Nagler 49). The immigration flood at the east coast demanded the exploitation of new land - preferab ly fertile land, because most of the immigrants wanted to make a living as farmers in America. So the immigrants went westwards on huge trails like the Oregon Trail, a passage which b ased on the route found by Lewis and Clark. Hundred thousands of settlers went on the long exhausting way in search for new land on the Oregon Trail.

A very negative aspect of the settlement were the consequences for the native American inhabitants, who weren't seen as equal partners by the settlers at all. Relatively short after the beginning of the b ig settlement waves, half of the population of the native Americans was killed - most of them by the guns of settlers or soldiers, others by new health diseases. Those who managed to stay alive, were cheated by b ad treaties which made them give away their land execrab le equivalent (Nagler 48).

Besides the search for fertile land, another reason for the search of land was the gold rush. In 1849 findings of gold in California made ab out 80.000 people go there in search for the precious metal. Three years later, the number of gold seekers was almost triple.

What unified all the adventurers was that they courageously entered unknown territory. Territory never seen before by mankind and never recorded on a map before. This made the territory of the new world America expand rapidly and also made the world as it was known before grow.

3. Walt Whitman's participation in discovering the world

As a poet, Walt Whitman inimitab ly represented America. But also his “private” course of life was typically American and shows amazing parallels to the development of the new world.

Coming from humb le homes, Whitman only went to school for six years before he started to work as a typesetter. Additionally, Whitman already started as a b oy to read the great works of Homer, Dante or Shakespeare and formed his literary skills in an autodidactic way. This unusual development of a young b oy already makes Whitman become a symb ol for the new world and the American do-it-yourself ideal. The further path of Whitman's life also shows close parallels to America's development, especially to the development of spatiality which shall be accentuated here.

Like the young nation which inexorab ly spread and discovered new territory, Whitman also did not stay within the usual b orders. When he was 13 years old, Whitman already reached for new regions and went to Manhattan all on his own. When he was an adult, Whitman's love of adventure and striving for new, distant realms continued. In 1848, Whitman's first travel led him and his b rother Jeff to New Orleans from where they returned via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and the Great Lakes. Several travels followed, e.g. in 1879, when Whitman went to the Great Plains, the Rocky Mountains and Niagara Falls. In 1880 he undertook a round trip through Canada with his friend Dr. Richard Maurice Backe. These and more travels, Whitman's restless adventurousness and love for America's wild and undiscovered nature make Whitman - even only in consideration of his private life - the prototype of a poet of the remote and the development of the territorial expansion of the world.

4. Territorial expansion in Whitman's poetry

Walt Whitman's adventurous mind and his love for the unknown far of the world cannot only be seen in his way of living. His poems also contain the 19th century's development of a growing new world and desire for the discovering of new regions and make Whitman become a symb ol for expanding spatiality.

Whitman's poem “Starting from Paumanok”, included in “Leaves of Grass” - especially its first paragraphs - are one example for parallels between his poetry and the world's territorial development. The poem describes ajourney which contains elements of a real journey and elements of a fictional journey in which Whitman's mind and with it the readers mind discover the world. Whitman clarifies that the journey he describes is not fixed to his person.


Excerpt out of 19 pages


The World Expanding and Moving Together Simultaneously in 19th-Century America
Parallels in Dickinson's and Whitman's Poetry and Lives
University of Stuttgart  (Institut für Literaturwissenschaft - Amerikanistik I)
Cultural Studies: Dickinson & Whitman: The Near and Far in 19th-Century American Geography
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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Dickinson, Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Walt Whitman, 19th century, spatiality, near & far
Quote paper
Matthias Dorsch (Author), 2010, The World Expanding and Moving Together Simultaneously in 19th-Century America, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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