Sunday, December 6, 2009

Prompt 3: Analysis of Letters

3: Choose two letters sent from Whitman to his mother and two letters sent from his mother to Walt Whitman then do a close reading of each letter. Make sure you describe the relationship between Whitman and his mother as depicted in the tone, language, purpose and overall content. How do these letters differ from Whitman’s letters to Charles W. Eldridge?

First letter: Louisa to Walt Whitman page 192 in Faint Clews & Indirections

In the letter from Louisa to Walt written on Tuesday November 14th, 1865, Louisa demonstrates her unconditional love for her son through her worried and anxious tone. Although Whitman is forty-six years old at the time, Whitman’s mother is concerned because she has not heard back from her son since he left Brooklyn. The length of this letter also contributes to its anxious tone. Compared to the other letters written by Louisa to Walt Whitman, this letter is especially brief. Although Louisa mentions three different topics of conversation within the letter, she does not describe in detail her observations and feelings regarding these matters. The three subjects that Louisa brings up are the weather, Edd being sick, and Drum Taps. The three subjects also reveal information about the relationship between Whitman and his mother. A common and trivial subject such as the weather demonstrates that Louisa wanted to keep Whitman informed of the current conditions and happenings of his original home environment. The second topic was news about Walt’s brother Edward. This information further demonstrates that although Walt was apart from his family, his mother still wanted him to be informed about the day to day happenings in her life and those around her. When Louisa mentions Drum Taps, she is acknowledging Whitman’s writing career. Her statement, “i used to read some in it almost every night before i went to Bed” (Gohdes 192) exposes Louisa’s admiration of her son’s talent. Also, perhaps these written texts by Walt act as a connection that comforts his mother to know that although Whitman is not physically with her his poetry is.

From this letter readers learn that Whitman and his mother often corresponded with one another. Louisa comments that it “seems so strange” that Walt did not write home right away after arriving in Washington DC. This can lead readers to assume that Walt would normally write to his mother promptly after arriving at a location. This prompt and frequent correspondence from Walt to his mother reveals Whitman’s respect towards his mother.

Second letter: Louisa to Walt Whitman page 194 in Faint Clews & Indirections

This second letter I choose to analyze was written Friday March 13, 1868. In this letter, Louisa expresses appreciation for Walt’s thoughtfulness and generosity in sending money. In many of the letters between Walt and his mother, Walt mentions sending money to his mother and she responds back saying that she has received the funds. However, this letter is unique because Louisa demonstrates a shameful attitude. Louisa admits to buying a lounge chair with the money that Walt sent and compares it to “committing a crime”. Louisa then goes on to justify her reasoning for making the purchase by describing the fine qualities of the lounge. Louisa then writes how her conscious feels better because she told Walt about her spending. The fact that Louisa felt the need to tell Whitman what she does with the money he sends her reveals an open relationship where few secretes are kept. Also, because Louisa writes about her guilty conscience about spending money on a material possession, she inadvertently describes her frugal tendencies and practical way of living. Furthermore, when Louisa writes, “I can get along if you send me two dollars next week” demonstrates how his mother relied on Walt for financial stability. At the same time however, Whitman willingly provides for his mother and perhaps felt that it was his responsibility to take care of her since his father had died.

In this letter Louisa also mentions her daily activities and writes, “i have been baking some bread and cake as davis goes away to night so i though he would probably stay to tea…” (Gohdes 194). Analyzing Louisa’s actions, it can be argued that she embraces her duties in running a household and being a proper hostess. Therefore, Whitman’s own perception of the American female and their roles and responsibilities may have been influenced by the daily observations of Louisa’s actions.

When analyzing the style and form of this letter. Louisa jumps around from one topic to another that could be comparable to a stream of consciousness style. In addition, there are numerous grammatical and spelling mistakes throughout the letter. For example, when Louisa writes, “George and i was talking about if the impeachment was carried if it would make any change with you we thought speed would be the one that would take the place of stansbury doo you know walt I have always felt a kind of sadness when I read the articles of impec…”(195), she does not use standard punctuation and misspells common words. However, as evident in this selection, Louisa mentions that she reads newspaper articles concerning current day political events. Although Louisa was not educated about the proper way to read and write, she demonstrates her worldly knowledge by including a reference about the impeachment of Andrew Johnson. Similarly, as shown throughout Whitman’s poetry and prose, the importance of worldly knowledge and practical experience is valued.

Whitman’s letter to his mother

Writing this letter from the Attorney General’s Office in Washington DC on June 26, 1866, Whitman fills his mother in on the happenings in his daily life. It is apparent that Whitman and his mother correspond frequently because Whitman mentions that he received her letter a week ago. Whitman seems to respond back by answering Louisa’s questions in a reassuring tone. Whitman must realize that his mother is worried about him during his travels and therefore writes, “I think I feel better than usual now for a couple of weeks past”. He continues to ease his mothers mind about his current situation by mentioning his current healthy diet. Also, perhaps Whitman mentions Mrs. Grayson, Mrs. Mix, and Mrs. Cobb to comfort his mother and let her know that he is surrounded by females who look out for him and assist him when need be. However, because Whitman does not describe in detail who Mrs. Grayson and Mrs. Mix are, many readers may contend that Whitman has written about these individuals in prior letters to his mother.

This letter is written in an informal style and jumps from one subject to another in brief statements. A noticeable feature which adds to the informality of this letter is the many ellipses. The ellipses separate the different subjects from one another and make it seem as though Whitman were speaking directly to his mother. Another instance in which Whitman’s informality is revealed is when he gets distracted by Mrs. Cobb entering into the room and quickly switches topics from Han to a description of what Mrs. Cobb is doing.

Analyzing this letter, it is evident that Whitman and his mother have a close connection. Immediately Whitman reveals the intimate relationship with his mother when he writes, “I think of you every day…” (7). Furthermore, at the end of the letter Whitman mentions how he misses his mother by mentioning that he wishes she could be with him. Also, just as Louisa demonstrates she is worried about Whitman in her letters, Whitman too reveals that he is concerned about his mother’s health and recommends that she take things in moderation.

Second letter: Whitman’s letter to his mother

Again in this letter, Whitman writes in an informal tone in which he demonstrates the intimate relationship that he had with his mother. Whitman also mentions other members of his family and says that he wrote to Hannah and sends his love to George and Matt. The many references and thoughts about his brothers and sisters demonstrate that family is important to Whitman. Not only does Whitman want to know how his mother is doing, but, Whitman also wants to be up to date about how his other relatives and loved ones are.

Since this letter was written during Whitman’s time in Virginia during the Civil War, Whitman tells his mother about a soldier in which he is visiting during his hospital visits. Alluding to Louisa’s own selflessness and compassionate nature, Whitman writes, “I tell you all the particulars, as I know you will be interested tho’ a perfect stranger” (34). Then, Whitman demonstrates his own thoughtfulness when he writes, “I suppose you got your almanacks”. Throughout many of the letters written by Walt to his mother, Walt indicates that he has sent money to his mother. In this instance however, Walt must have sent her two almanacs, which act as material gifts that display his affection. Echoing the first letter that I analyzed, Whitman reveals the concern he had for his mother’s health at the end of the letter when he writes, “I hope this will find you all right & free from rheumatism”.

Difference between Whitman and his mother’s correspondence and letter to Charles W. Eldridge

The letters between Louisa and Whitman are different than letters written by Whitman to other individual. For example, when analyzing Whitman’s letters sent to Charles W. Eldridge, Whitman’s publisher and close companion, one will see numerous differences and some similarities. Both Charles Eldridge and his mother are individuals with whom Whitman has a close relationship with. This close relationship between Whitman and Charles W. Eldridge is evident because rather than using Charles’s full name, Whitman addresses him as “Charley”. Also, similar to the informal tone of Whitman’s letters to Louisa, when Whitman writes to Charles he maintains an informal tone. Furthermore, when corresponding to both individuals, Whitman writes about similar subjects such as, the weather, his health, and his living environment. Yet, it is important to note that Whitman’s letter to Charles and his mother were written at different years. Therefore, the content and subject that Whitman writes about to Charles may differ because of the time that they were written. Another difference is found at the end of the letter Whitman writes to Charles. Before Whitman concludes his thoughts, he recommends a book that he had recently read. Although written in an informal nature Whitman reveals his intellectual literary side to Charles. This literary critic side of Walt Whitman is not seen in the two letters written to Louisa. Also, Whitman does not use the affectionate term “dear” to conclude his letters to Charles as he did in his mother’s letters where he wrote, “Mother dear”. This small difference demonstrates that although both Charles and his mother had a close relationship to Walt, his mother was a respected older figure while Charles was a friendly companion

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