Date of Award
Master of Arts
Lorraine Burghardt, Richard Kelly
The thesis of this paper is that the essential unity of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, 1855 derives from the personality projected.
Up to the present, critics have failed to agree on any single principle of unity in the first poem of Leaves of Grass, 1855, or in the book as a whole. Yet Whitman himself indicated on various occasions over a long span of years that the projection of a personality was his intent. Further, he indicated that this personality could then be utilized for various purposes, most notably he could exploit it to "promulge" his philosophy.
The unity of the twelve Leaves in Leaves of Grass, 1855 is the psychological unity which comes from there being one speaker present throughout the twelve poems, who presents himself and his philosophy to a listener/reader much as he would to a confidante - his thoughts, ideas, visions tumble forth in a non-logical order.
The unity of the personality is shown by examining the speaker in the first Leaf in terms of ten significant personality facets, successively, each as through a filter. The first Leaf projects the basic personality which is then expanded and amplified in each of the other eleven Leaves, illuminating the psychological continuity ranging across the twelve poems. The person Whitman projected in the poems thinks, speaks, and acts consistently within the limits of a living personality's idiosyncratic nature and hence provides the essential unity of the book.
Lawson, Jan Bryan, "The Essential Unity of Whitman's Leaves of Grass, 1855: The Personality Projected. " Master's Thesis, University of Tennessee, 1970.