According to Lauri Honko, culture is how people see, think, and interact with the world. He also defines tradition as the physical materials that make up culture1. It is critical to understand both culture and tradition when attempting to identify an epic because an epic must represent both of these aspects.
“Song of Myself” captures American culture and tradition in its catalogues found throughout. By listing things such as day to day activities of people from different walks of life, Whitman unites himself with them. By describing their actions, he shows that he understands them, their traditions, and their culture. By becoming a part of the people he is describing, they become a part of the poem, and the themes of the poem open up to include them. This engages the audience as well, because if they know one kind of person that the poem is describing, they can make a personal connection with the poem and are more likely to relate to the poem because of it.
Considering the definitions of tradition and culture and how the poem captures them, “Song of Myself” is the closest thing that America can have to an epic. It describes American traditions, and in doing so it paints a picture of the American ...
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... it represents, and propose a revolutionary set of ideals which will one day become an example for others to follow.
The poem’s sense of identity makes it easier for people to identify with it. Whitman’s use of “I” to create a collective identity makes it incredibly easy to identify with the poem. By using “I” in a collective sense it forces the audience to associate themselves, for whom they refer to as “I”, into the unified group of beings to whom the poem refers.
Overall, “Song of Myself” should be the American epic because it captures and defines the American identity through tradition and culture. It does this by referring to the country’s shared experiences and ideals. The poem is also structured to accommodate America specifically. “Song of Myself” is the best possible choice for an American epic, despite the country’s brief history and substantial diversity.
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