Walt Whitman was an American poet who lived from 1819 until 1892. Throughout his lifetime, Whitman has witnessed and taken part in America’s bloodiest and morbid conflict, the Civil War. As the war progressed towards its demise, Whitman started to acknowledge the ideas of the American Spirit, which fashioned America, as the fundamentals for the American society. He later incorporated those fundamentals-democracy, patriotism and freedom-in his work. Poems such as, “I Sit and Look Out”, “I Hear America Singing” and “Poets to Come”, are examples of the three fundamentals, which Whitman believed to be the cornerstone of the American community.
In “I Sit and Look Out”, Whitman highlights the miseries and cruelties with which America has faced in the nineteenth century, due to capitalism. During that time, the lives of the people changed, towards the desire of acquiring more and more materialistic possessions and thus neglecting the concerns and emotions of the people surrounding them. In the beginning of the poem, Whitman portrays himself as an outlooker, rather as an observer, who watches the selfish and corrupt people abuse one another’s lives. “I SIT and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and all oppression and shame” (1). The very word “SIT” transmits a message to the reader that, although Whitman sees “oppression and shame” surrounding him, he cannot do anything about it, because than he would become as one of them. A reason why he specifies both in the title and in the first verse, the two words”look out”referring to himself as taking heed to the mundane world and its unscrupulous citizens.
Throughout the poem, Whitman abundantly uses free verse which indicates a situation that never changes. The author also, somewhat establishes a tone of pessimism and despair by portraying an ominous and a doom laden picture that terrifies the reader as they advance in the poem. Whitman tries to paint a dystopian society where its people are driven by selfishness and lustful desires. He depicts “the mother missused by her children”, being alone in the field of parenting, meaning that fathers do not care for the mothers of their children. “I see the wife missused by her husband”,Whitman calls the attention to the opposite sex who abuses and cheats their wives. He adds, that the husband, “the seducer of young women” cheats his wife by picking up young girls and deceives them without remorse or shame. It can be deduced that the theme of Whitman’s poem is the jealousy and lustful desire of the filthy and morbid human race. Although the observer is not able to move from his position, it can be concluded that it is more painful and uncomfortable to be the viewer who is able to “See, hear, and be silent” and not be able to do anything, than to be the victim.
Whitman’s reason of writing this poem was to call for strengthening the democracy in America which started to be slowly forgotten by both the government and the people due to the influence of capitalism. He spent his entire life believing and promoting democracy through his work, in order to help people to recognize that this ideal unites them with the American Spirit. A perfect example of his work on promoting democracy is seen through “I Sit and Look Out” which depicts an anarchistic and out of control, both morally and governmentally wise, community. His message to the American people than and today is to believe and promote democracy.