Sunday, December 6, 2009

Prompt 2: A Woman’s Power

2. Reflect on Whitman’s quote, “The Best Part of every man is his mother” found in Philip Callow’s book. To what degree does Whitman uphold this statement and give power to women for their sexual, childbearing, and childrearing abilities in his poems “A Woman Waits for me” “Mother and Babe” and “Unfolded Out of the Folds” (515).

The main subjects of Whitman’s poem “Unfolded Out of the Folds” are a woman and a man. Throughout this poem, women are portrayed as powerful beings who control and influence men. A woman power, as depicted in this poem, is derived from a mother’s ability to bare children. The title itself, “Unfolded Out of the folds” is reminiscent of the folds of a woman’s vagina which is the pathway to life. Whitman continues to give women power and writes, “unfolded out of the friendliest woman is to come the friendliest man” (551). This line gives reverence to women’s role and ability to instill values on her children. Thus it can be argued that Whitman is commenting on women’s control over children’s personality traits. Whitman also grants women power over children’s intellectual abilities and talents when he writes, “Unfolded only out of the inimitable poems of woman can come the poems of man”. Following this Whitman includes a statement in parentheses and continues, “(only thence have my poems come;)”. The parentheses may denote Whitman’s personal voice and could be a reference to his own childhood experience and the influence between himself and his mother. Even the physical description of the woman as “well-muscled” adds to the strength and power women are depicted to have in this poem. Whitman continues to give women dominance over men when he writes, “A man is a great thing upon the earth and through eternity, but every jot of the greatness of man is unfolded out of woman;”. Thus, Whitman alludes to a woman’s influence over children some of who will eventually be this “man” that owes all of his being to his mother.

Furthermore, in Whitman’s “Mother and Babe”, he specifically focuses on the female’s ability to breastfeed. Within these three lines, Whitman illustrates a peaceful scene in which a mother’s power over her offspring is fully exposed. Whitman depicts and intimate connection between the mother and baby when he explains that the baby is “nestling the breast” (413). Women are given power in this poem because they are able to establish an intimate connection with children in both the physical and emotional sense immediately at infancy. Whitman seems to be intrigued by this scene because he comments that he studies the mother and child for a long time. In order to understand this intense fascination of the subjects, mother and baby, critics such as Myrth Jimmie Killingsworth contend that this poem may deserve a Freudian study, in which readers turn to Whitman’s biography to look for an abnormal close relationship between Whitman and his mother (Killingsworth 39).

Attention is given to women’s sexual abilities in “A Woman Waits for Me”originally titled “A Poem of Procreation” (Killingsworth 7). Immediately Whitman bestows power to women and writes, “she contains all”. This statement is then echoed when discussing sex. By stating that both the woman and sex contain all, Whitman is giving woman control over sexual abilities. Although the title of the poem “A Woman Waits for Me” depicts a woman in a submissive position, when Whitman writes, “I am for you, and you are for me, not only for our sake, but for others’ sakes” he is portraying an equal sexual relationship where both man and woman are in need of one another in order to procreate. Furthermore, when discussing shame in relationship to sex, Whitman seems to want women to take pride in their sex and sexual abilities just as men do. This sexual equality is further demonstrated when Whitman lists the physical abilities that woman are able to do. When it comes to sexual intercourse and procreation, Whitman describes a mutual need for both the male’s and female’s bodies in order to create a child. Whitman acknowledges the male’s power to “pour the stuff to start sons and daughters” but also recognizes that a woman’s womb is needed to receive the “pent-up river”.

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