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The Link Between Beautiful Authors and their Eras
Walt Whitman and F. Scott Fitzgerald were two intense writers whose works have become classic necessities to America’s body of literature. Both as writers and human beings, they are products of their times. Walt Whitman’s work is clearly connected to his life during the brutal, chaotic civil war era. Similarly, F. Scott Fitzgerald is also an obvious example his own time period. His life revolved around the flashy 1920’s lifestyle and the eventual economic downturn. Their literary works and prowess are direct products of their lives.
Walt Whitman was alive from 1818 to 1892. Whitman was one of the first writers to write sincerely. He was fired from several jobs because in his time people were uncomfortable with his blunt diction. Most popular poetry before his was very soft and gentle. It did not address the serious issues of the world or the lives people were living day-to-day. His mature life was lived in the Civil War era. His work was truly affected by it. In 1865 he wrote “The Wound-Dresser”. His poetry delves into the casualties of the Civil War. Other authors that wrote about the Civil War focused mainly on the Nation and the Nation’s struggles. Whitman focuses on the individual. He focuses on the pain, ecstasy, beauty, ugliness, and agony of the individual. The Civil War era was all about politics and people lumping together with passion for a cause. No one thought about the singular human being. It was all about groups of people, majorities, and their overall causes. Whitman’s goal was to be different. He wanted to fill a void he felt in the world of the literary arts.
Being a hospital attendant during the war he knows what’s really going on. He sees what the people of America don’t understand. This poem is not about some made up character. This poem is about him. “On, on I go, (open doors of time! Open hospital doors!)/ The crush’d head I dress, (poor crazed hand tear not the bandage away,)/ The neck of the cavalry-man with the bullet through and through I examine,/ hard the breath rattles, quite glazed already the eye, yet life struggles hard” (70). He has to almost force himself to become numb to the pain he sees because he must bear it so often. The weight he feels from these sickened soldiers is breathtaking. He sees their organs, their blood, their bones, their tears. He knows before they do how truly hurt they are. He describes the soldier’s eye as “quite glazed”. He shows their agony, destitution, and their loss. During the war his brother George was fighting and was wounded. Whitman went to his aid and helped him until he was better. He actually lived all of this. It’s not a story to him. His poem really reflects what he was living and what was around him.
“I sit by the restless all the dark night, some are so young, Some suffer so much, I recall the experience sweet and sad. Many a soldier’s loving arms about this neck have cross’d and rested,/ Many a soldier’s kiss dwells on these bearded lips.” (70). This may have been the most disturbing war in American history. Not only did so many people die in such brutal ways, but we were killing our own people. People were killing their brothers, neighbors, old friends, and people they had fought wars with in the past. These were not strangers. Whitman shows this sadness in his poetry. He connects with each individual person as a human being. When he is sitting with a sad lonely boy who’s dying in sheer agony, he’s not thinking about states’ rights. He’s feeling a powerful emotional connection. Watching someone die is the most wrenching thing in the world. Nothing matters outside of that moment and one feels real pain for what it is.
When you read his poetry you feel like you’re right there: “From the stump of an arm, the amputated hand,/ I undo the clotted lint, remove the sough, wash off the matter and blood,/ Back on his pillow the soldier bends with curv’d neck and side-falling head,/ his eyes are closed, his face is pale, he dares not look on the bloody stump,/ And he has not look’d on it.” (70). His words and scenes are so agonizing and uncomfortable one actually winces their eyes whilst reading them. From this poem you can see how different this war was from other wars America has been through. It seems like this war was more brutal than more modern wars. It seems like modern instruments of war are more accurate and kill people in a more succinct manner. In the Civil War, the weapons the soldiers used weren’t very accurate at all. Most of the time they didn’t kill people right off. They just ripped people up so they would die in slow agony. The weapons weren’t nearly as developed. You can see that through his work.
Outside of Whitman poets and storytellers alike were talking about pride, freedom, and patriotism. They were talking about the country and the romanticized image of the pride-filled soldier. Whitman was in the real experience. He helped begin poetry into realism and out of romanticism. Before Whitman’s uncensored, raw, and personal work, everything was so romantic. Nothing felt real. When you read poems from the romantic era you feel like you’re tasting plastic. Whitman’s realism is new and eye-opening. He became the difference he dreamed of being.
F. Scott Fitzgerald was a rich, famous, and fabulous author during the 1920s. He is extremely symbolic of the 1920s and the 1930s. During the ‘20s he was infatuated with a lifestyle filled with drinking, all-night partying, and excess. “Winter Dreams”, The Great Gatsby, and many other novels and stories reflect this great lifestyle he loved to indulge in. On the other end of the spectrum during the ‘30s he also had to suffer the aftermath of living in the bubble economy of America. He wrote fewer stories on this time period but “Babylon Revisited” is a powerful story he wrote addressing the struggles of the economic crisis. The story is about a man who got caught up in the excessive partying lifestyle of the 20s and during the economic crisis must face his problems.
The main character at one point is discussing with a bartender how the recent economic changes were affecting people: “’I heard you lost a lot in the crash.’ ’I did’ he added grimly, ‘but I lost everything I wanted in the boom’” (1039). Like so many people he allowed himself to be carried away in the “live fast die young” lifestyle. So many people in that time were drinking so much alcohol, partying, and really fully living up the idea that the economy would never burst and people could indulge in their most immediate pleasures forever.
A lot of people started moving to different countries they were familiar with in an attempt to escape the depression. Fitzgerald and his wife ended up moving to Europe to try to live cheaper when the American depression hit. The problem was that the depression hit all over the world. When the main character in this story goes back to France he relives through his memories all the times he carelessly squandered his money away. “’But it was nice while it lasted,’ Charlie said. ‘We were a sort of royalty, almost infallible, with a sort of magic around us. In the bar this afternoon…there wasn’t a man I knew’” (1028). The main character really allowed his life to get out of control and his rich, abundant way of living ended rather abruptly. His success fell completely apart just as fast as it came.
The main character is trying to make the transition into the life he now must live from this downturn. When the stock market crashed the main character has a mental breakdown and ends up losing his daughter, his wife dies, and he ends up in a mental institution. There are direct parallels in this story with Fitzgerald’s experiences when the depression hit. Fitzgerald became an alcoholic, his wife had a complete mental collapse and went to live in an institution, and he felt pain for the rest of his life for having lost her.
In conclusion, Walt Whitman and F. Scott Fitzgerald are both icons of their time periods. Their work reflects their experiences and the experiences of everyone around them dealing in their struggles of the time. Their stories and poems depict such raw realities of the things that were happening. They created real American Literature.
Fitzgerald, F. Scott. “Babylon Revisited”. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York. London, WW Norton & Company. 2008.
Whitman, Walt. “The-Wound Dresser”. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York. London, WW Norton & Company. 2008.