Responding to America: a comparison of literary explorations of self-reliance and individual resilience in 19th and 20th century American writing Cust

“Howl and Other Poems” (Allen Ginsberg) ; “Song of Myself” (Walt Whitman)
Secondary Texts: “The Poet” (ralph Waldo Emerson) ; “One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest” (Ken Kesey)
Additional Texts: “One the Road” (Jack Kerouac); “Walden” (Thoreau); “Death of A Salesman” (Arthur Miller”; “Much Madness is divinest Sense”, “The Soul selects her own Society”, “I’m Nobody! Who are you” (Emily Dickinson)

The main focus will address Walt Whitman’s portrayal of a self-reliant individual living in a free American society, which is established upon a utopian conception of race, class and gender relationships. Allen Ginsberg’s Howl and Other Poems will also be considered, which act almost as an implicit response to Whitman’s dream of the universal self by replacing the horizontal and egalitarian hierarchy with a vertical one. His criticism addresses the rigid attitude of society against the expression of individualism. Both Ginsberg’s and Whitman’s striking use of free verse, coarse diction and parallelism enhance their call to free the individual from imprisoning social hierarchies. However, while Whitman’s Song of Myself is an optimistic firework, Ginsberg does not intend to hide his bitter resentment against society in Howl. The secondary text The Poet by Emerson, the father of Transcendentalism, presents an early request for the ideal of the universal self in American literature. In his essay he calls for the “true poet” of America, who is unifying humanity by his ability to speak for all people equally. Ken Kesey, with his novel One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest illustrates the particular conflict between sanity and insanity and the resulting struggle of the self to maintain individual resilience in a destructive society.

The comparison of the portrayal of self-reliance and individual resilience in those texts should be written with close focus on language, form and style of the texts (i.e. diction, tone, atmosphere, metaphors, stylistic devices,…)