“I Sing the Body Electric” – Walt Whitman

Hi guys! So I had do a little poem reading for a class I’m taking and really enjoyed this one that I’d never read by Walt Whitman, “I Sing the Body Electric.” It’s from his Leaves of Grass collection of poems, and is just absolutely fantastic.

Walt Whitman’s “I Sing the Body Electric,” begins in the 19th century (which is when this was written) at a slave auction, and discusses how he views slaves/people of color as exactly the same as white people. Whitman takes the time to verbalize every aspect of the human body to compare how alike the slave body and the white body are, and makes sure to convey to the reader that there is absolutely no difference between one body and the next, despite skin color. Whitman is obviously vehemently against slavery, and also is very pro-women’s rights, and uses this poem to express that message.

Whitman communicates this idea by discussing his view of what a female and a male (in terms of body and essence) are made of. For instance, when he describes women he explains that the proverbial “She” is something of beauty, something that produces life in more ways than one, someone who “contains all qualities, and tempers them – she is in her place, and moved with perfect balance.”  He mentions that women are “the gates of the body, and [women] are the gates of the soul.” In other words, he gives the reader a full description of what his view of the Female is – powerful, life-giving, beautiful, strong, capable, and “divine.” As he continues, he mentions that he sees this slave woman up at auction as just Female; he does not see a slave, he sees a woman who is just as capable of life-giving, just as female, as the other women he was describing. To him, white, black, or any other color – they are all equally woman, and thus equally divine.

But he doesn’t just talk about women – he discusses men as being powerful, defiant, passionate and prideful. He tells the reader, “the male is not less the soul nor more, he too is in his place,” which lets us know that he views men as equally as he does women.

Although I must say that I am genuinely impressed at his progressive views on women and equality, I also, in my own way, feel like Whitman might respect the female form more than he does the male form. I’m not saying he views them as unequal, or thinks that one should be valued over the other. Instead, what I mean is that Whitman is a man, and thus would be familiar with the male body and the strength and power that comes with it, but as a man I think he’s infatuated with the idea of what a female body can do.

Whitman even mentions, “I am drawn by [the female’s] breath as if I were no more than a helpless vapor, all falls aside but myself and it.” He sees the beauty in the form, the power in what it can do, and the mysteries of it he will never know. He appreciates that the life-cycle is dependent on the woman, and not that a man does not have a part in it, but he seems to truly respect and value the power of women.

He also, interestingly, discusses immigrants very briefly. Whitman says,

“The man’s body is sacred, and the woman’s body is sacred;

No matter who it is, it is sacred;

Is it a slave? Is it one of the dull-faced immigrants just landed on the wharf?

Each belongs here or anywhere, just as much as the well-off—just as much as you;

Each has his or her place in the procession.”

I was very taken aback at reading this since he not only mentions how he feels about immigration at the time, but also of how he equates slaves and immigrants. To start, I think it’s important to mention that starting around 1850, and going until the first World War, immigration was pouring in to cities. According to The Norton Anthology of American Literature, large cities were becoming even larger due to the influx of immigrants. For instance, New York City grew sevenfold going from 500k to 3.5 million, and Chicago went from 29K people in 1850 to more than 2 million in 1910. This is a monumental gap. This is so important because as a country we get so wrapped up in the romanticized idea that America was founded by and built by/for immigrants, and yet those in that time period did not necessarily view immigrants in a kind way.

In the 19th century (and prior), America gained a large amount of wealth from slavery and the trade/selling of goods that came from it. But at a certain point, immigrants began to understand that they may be able to leave the poverty and horrific regimes that they were experiencing and took the risk to come to America. Those immigrants were not seen as important, they were not seen as welcome. Much like the immigrants of today, many people told them to leave, and made their lives difficult if they did not; this made it extremely difficult for immigrants to make a living and for them to build a solid foundation for their families. Whitman, on the other hand, understood how the immigrants were being treated and viewed that treatment as inequality. Despite the majority of the immigrants being caucasian, he viewed their treatment as unequal, just as he viewed slavery as unequal.

Whitman also uses an interesting set of stanzas at the end of his poem that encompass what he was trying to express in the rest of his poem. He sets off to give an extremely in depth look at every single part of the human anatomy; he makes the connection that every body has these parts equally, and if we have all of the same parts, how can we not be equal? How are we truly different from one to the other? In order to make this point very clear, Whitman describes individual body parts, and his use of imagery here is remarkable. He mentions “the ample side-round of the chest,” “Broad breast-front, curling hair of the breast, breast-bone, breast-side,” and “the pale yellow and white of his hair and beard, and the immeasurable meaning of his black eyes.” It gives the reader something to envision perfectly as you read along.

The way he begins with body parts everyone has (i.e. nose, mouth, tongue, cheek, eyes, etc.) and then moves on to the individual parts of man and woman truly spark a very distinctive picture in the mind when reading it. At least for me, I had no particular color of person in mind when reading it (since Whitman does not use skin color to describe anatomy).  I think that was his point: to make simply being a human being indistinguishable from race.

Whitman also equates the Soul and the Body. He tells the reader that every Body has a soul, and that soul is equal to all other souls. Thus, no matter what skin color, religion, language or social class, we are all equal. No one has the right to forcibly take another person’s body, to take another person’s dignity, to steal their rights.

Which brings me to my last point: Whitman’s writing of this poem is of extreme importance; particularly for the people of the time he wrote this. At the time this poem was published, approximately five years before the Civil War began, there was obviously an incredible divide between North and South. This poem simply explains that divide  from the point of view of just an average observer. He can see the differences between these two groups of people: those who believed that there is nothing different from one body to the next, that it is a human right to be free, versus those who viewed slaves as property, as meat and cattle, as something that could be collected and sold, exploited and overused.

Whitman’s writing of this poem shows just how progressive he was at the time. While of course there were abolitionists and groups that sympathized them, there were certainly still divides concerning whether or not black people were equal. In my research I’ve found that there were more people who disagreed with slavery, but still viewed black people and other people of color as beneath them than there were people who viewed all bodies as equal.

So while it may seem like Whitman is simply appealing to abolitionists alone, it seems like this poem would have reached people who were against slavery but still did not see how people of color could possibly be equal to white people. Whitman even publishing this poem could have put him in hot water (and it did), but he published it anyway knowing that maybe someone who was on the fence might now be converted, and at the very least he’s gotten his opinions onto paper and out there for others to use and criticize.

I really enjoyed this poem, and thought Whitman did a truly wonderful job of capturing the truth about race, slavery, gender equality, and equality in general.

If you guys have read it, or would like to read it (I highly recommend you do!) let me know in the comments below or via email! I’d love to hear your thoughts on it, and what you inferred from reading it yourself.

If you have any other comments or questions, you can leave them below or you can email me at rachel@booksandcleverness.com! I hope to hear from you soon!

Until next time,

Rachel

email: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

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River of Teeth – Sarah Gailey Review

Hey guys! I’m so proud of myself – I’ve managed to read two books since June. I know, it doesn’t seem like much, but trust me: it’s been hard to find time. That being said, I’m going to talk about one of them: River of Teeth by Sarah Gailey.

Now, before I go into the book I think it’s only fair I tell you a little bit about the historical background of this novella:

In 1910, a man by the name of Robert Broussard, et. al.  proposed an idea to the U.S. government – an idea so preposterous it just might work. Or so he thought.

Broussard proposed the “American Hippo Bill.” What is the “American Hippo Bill,” you ask? Well, you see, in the Louisiana swamplands an invasive plant called the Water Hyacinth was running rampant, destroying animal habitats, “choking” the rivers, and making it near impossible to ship anything from the waters. The government tried everything: including an attempt to pour oil over it to kill the plant.

I mean, why they thought just dumping sludgy oil over a water plant was a good idea, I have no idea. But I guess at least they’re nothing if not consistent because their next plan was even more ridiculous. Broussard proposed that in order to get rid of the Water Hyacinth they could bring African Hippopotamus’ into Louisiana waters and kill the plant.

Now that’s pretty crazy right? Well I’m not done.

Not only did they want to bring the Hippos all the way from their natural habitat to kill this plant, they also wanted to ranch them! Their idea was simple: we’ll bring the hippos in, we’ll put them on a ranch, or a farm, and raise them like you would a cow or chickens – let them eat the water hyacinth, and then when the hippos are ready, we kill them and use them as a source for meat. At the time there was a meat shortage, so why not add hippo into their diets!

Needless to say, despite Theodore Roosevelt being 100% on board with this plan (Because he’s TR, and a true badass), there were no hippo ranches to be made in Louisiana.

So what does this have to do with the book? Well, Gailey – who is on a whole other level of creative that I could never reach, decided to write this novel as if the “American Hippo Bill” had passed!!

I was just scrolling through Amazon books and one of the “also recommended” books was this. I saw the cover and immediately knew I had to at least give it a shot. Well, this book was well worth it.

Gailey took some liberties and made this book set in the 1800’s, and I have to say that was a great idea. She takes her own liberties when it comes to time periods, technology used, and the like, but overall her use of those liberties made for a really fun read.33099585

I’m not going to say that this is the next Great American Novel, but it sure was entertaining and honestly worth another read from me.

The story follows a character named Winslow Houndstooth who manages to get a group of “mercenary hippo wranglers” together to complete a year-long job. What they don’t know is that Houndstooth isn’t just doing a job (although he is doing the job) he’s also looking for revenge!

I thought this book was really fun, light, and an easy read. All of the characters are SO different, they all have a purpose, and they all bring something fun, or different to the table. I didn’t know what to expect from this book, and even while reading it I couldn’t tell what was going to happen next. It was just one big rollercoaster.

If you love historical fiction, adventure, heist, and animal books – this is for you. It appealed to my want for something based on fact, something almost swash-buckling, and it still had animals!  The only thing I will say is this: if you don’t like gore, don’t read it. It’s not overly gory, and honestly Gailey does a very tasteful job with that, but there is death in the book and the scenes tend to take a very different turn from what you’d expect. So just keep that in mind if you wanted to read it. It also does have sex in it. They don’t talk about genitals or anything, but there is kissing, and not-at-all-subtle sleepovers.

So again, buyer beware.

Otherwise, I thought it was excellent! It was fun, it was interesting, it was cool that it’s based off of real life, and I really enjoyed it! Good news too: she’s making a sequel! Comes out in September!!

Also, I just looked it up and it looks like Edward Norton and RatPac Entertainment are creating a movie on the topic! I assume the movie is about the true story of trying to get the bill passed and such, but how cool would it be if it were a killer hippo story??

Anyway, if you like these kinds of books, and like history, and a really short read (160-something pages) READ THISSSSS!!!! It’s summer – buy this book and bring it to the beach! It’s worth it!

As always, if you have any comments or questions feel free to leave them here or contact me at rachel@booksandcleverness.com!

Until next time!

Rachel

E-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Book vs Movie: The Revenant

Well well well, look what the cat dragged in… Or should I say, “look what the grizzly dragged in???” (Forgive me, my vocabulary is limited to sarcasm and dad jokes) I know this review is a little bit late to the game but better late than never, right?

Let’s get started: About a week or so after it came out, my boyfriend and I watched the brand spankin’ new movie The Revenant starring the ever-so-awesome Jack Dawson (aka Leonardo DiCaprio) [… side note, does anyone else think of Leo as Jack still? Because that love will never die in my mind and is always the first thing that comes to mind. DAMNIT LEO AND KATE GET TOGETHER ALREADY!] 

We went in to the movie trying to keep our expectations to a minimum. The last time we saw a movie that was that hyped up we were so disappointed. To be specific, that movie was Mad Max: Fury Road. Mad Max got something crazy like 99% on Rotten Tomatoes and everyone was saying it was the greatest movie of all time. So of course I’m expecting the best movie ever. Instead I got a two hour desert car chase.

Before anyone argues with me, I want to say that when the movie came out on DVD my boyfriend and I bought it and gave it another shot and actually really enjoyed it! The problem lies in the hype:

You see, for most movies that come out with five star ratings, everyone expects the best movie ever – they don’t go in appreciating the movie for what it is. With Mad Max, it just so happened to be one of the most extraordinary car chases I’ve ever seen. But again, how was I supposed to enjoy that when everyone is saying it’s a feminist masterpiece and the most brilliantly made film since Avatar?

So like I said, my expectations were lower than usual because I just didn’t want to feed into the hype. Fortunately, my expectations were exceeded. The Revenant kept me on the edge of my seat the entire time. There was never a dull moment, even in the slowest moments I was still wholly captivated.

Which is why when we went out to dinner one night and I saw The Revenant in Barnes & Noble under the Page to Screen section, I was thrilled! Should I have spent the money? Probably not. But was it worth it? Definitely. (I can practically hear my wallet yelling from the living room, “Ah’r you f#*&ing kidding me? I’m bleedin’ ova here!”Apparently my wallet is an Italian Mobster – No ragrets)

Anyway, I bought the book when I was still reading the Dan Brown novels  – which I will tell you about, by the way, I just need a break from the disappointment – and mentioned the book in one of my posts. I was surprised that one of my favorite bloggers Bottles And Bookends had heard the actual story of the main character. I was actually impressed that this was a true story and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to read it.

Well it took me probably about a week or a week and a half to finish the book. It’s not that big, less than 300 pages, but I’ve been a slow reader recently so I was actually pretty pleased on my timing. But let me tell you … you have to read this book.

This novel was phenomenal. From the very first page I was completely hooked. The author, Michael Punke, did so much research and really got the feel of early 1800’s trappers and Native Americans and put them in this small but powerful book. The writing was an interesting style akin to watching a movie. The constant change of what I’ll call “point of view” for lack of a better word, made the book all the more authentic.

It was poignant, it was different, it was rough at times, incredibly detailed, and all over a well written novel.

Now here’s the tricky part: was the movie similar to the book? Yes. But did the movie take a hell of a lot of creative liberties? Abso-fucking-lutely. For starters, Hugh Glass does not have a child in this book. And anyone knows from the trailer of the movie that this man is seeking revenge because of his son. So that’s plot difference number one.

Number two: the movie, remarkably, is mostly following one man’s journey for revenge. A solo adventure to find the men who deserted him. The book, however, offers a much more realistic take: the main character is seeking revenge on his own, but often needs the assistance of other people in the surrounding areas to survive.

Number three: The ending. I’m not even going to touch on the ending because I don’t want to give it away, but the endings of the two Revenants are different. One is more concrete while the other is open to interpretation.

But let me say this. absolutely adore historical fiction. I think it’s incredible. I love being transported into a world not entirely unlike my own, still based on fact, but obviously maneuvered to make it more appealing and exciting to read. This book hit that mark to a tee. If you like historical fiction, this is the perfect book for you.

As for book versus movie. I honestly don’t think that there’s a way to compare the two. While there were obvious similarities between them, I truly believe that the movie was a 10/10, and the book was 10/10, but for different reasons.

For that I’m calling this one a tie.

I do very highly recommend this book. And I highly recommend seeing the movie and then reading this book, because it was really cool to see the dramatization and get interested in that story and then go and read a more realistic interpretation of what actually happened.

So what are you waiting for? You’ve listened to my dad jokes enough – go read!

Until next time,

Rachel

P.S. Thank you for supporting me for 50 posts! I’m so excited that I get to share my thoughts and ramblings with you guys and I’m so thankful that you find me interesting enough to stick around. Here’s to the next 50!

e-mail: rachel@booksandcleverness.com

Banned Books Week!

Hello everyone! I know it’s been a while since my last post, but I’m back! Today I actually have something that I want to talk about, something that I’ve recently learned about and just can’t understand: banning books.

Throughout America there is currently a bit of an uprising in the reading community. Different places throughout the country are attempting to ban books from schools and entire cities, and sadly it seems like there is a decent amount of support to make it happen. Fortunately, the last week of September is known as Banned Books Week, where people can show their support of keeping these books somewhere with immediate access, and promote the education of long-time masterpieces in the American culture.

One of the most controversial books right now is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Why? Because it uses the word “nigger” frequently throughout the book. While I want to stress that it is never okay to use that word, ever, I also don’t think it’s a word that we, as a society, should pretend never existed. For hundreds of years black people were brought from their homes in Africa to a place where they were treated less than animals. They were called “nigger” and they were oppressed, beaten, and turned into slaves.

When the 15th Amendment was passed, these slaves were legally created equal, but they were not socially created equal. They were continually called the “n” word and they were treated as inferior humans. Even today the “n” word gets thrown around like it’s nothing. In regards to Huck Finn, it’s important to remember that everything said in the book was not meant to insult the reader, but rather educate the reader on what happens and what is said in 1880’s daily life.

Another book that is constantly under fire is The Great Gatsby. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s 1920’s book about rich partying socialites has been under scrutiny for its content on alcohol and sex. This particular ban irks me to my core because the entire 1920’s was exactly that: booze and sex. In the mid 1920’s Prohibition was in effect. All of New York City is said to have had at least 100,000 speakeasies (give or take the thousands that were shut down by Prohibition agents). The 20’s brought another kind of excitement for young adults as well: sex. It’s said that during that time “men found the clitoris.” Basically, the majority of cities in America were completely alcohol dependent, and sexual activity was at an all-time high. Haven’t you seen Boardwalk Empire??

The thing to remember with books written a long time ago, is that they were NOT MEANT TO OFFEND they were simply meant to bring awareness to the public by writing about what happens in daily life, while still adding a fun fictional flair to the work. But the thing that upsets me the most is that these books are part of our history they are written by people who experienced these lifestyles and wanted to tell others about it. It’s written to bring light to fact that young white people just called black people “niggers” not even because they hated black people, but because that is what they were told was the acceptable behavior.

It’s bringing light to the fact that even the richest, most affluent and respectable families in the 20’s were fueled by illegal alcohol, affairs, and often cruelty. That is what was acceptable. Fitzgerald was not saying that partying all the time is the right way to live your life, he was simply telling a fictional story of what he believed happened during the Roaring Twenties.

The thing to remember is that all of this is history. No one is saying that everyone should forget slavery happened, because it did! It did, and it was awful, and cruel and just plain wrong. And yet, people are saying that a fictional book should be forgotten because it uses a word that was used every single day for hundreds of years in the book. No one is saying that we should forget that there was a ban on alcohol for years and it drove people to do horrendous things, and yet they’re saying to forget this fictional book because it glorifies partying, drinking and sex.

It’s hypocritical and it’s wrong. That’s why for the last week of September the American Library Association is challenging readers to read and understand as many banned and challenged books they can. To prove that no one can tell you what you can and can not read. No one can tell you that you are not allowed to have opinions or the right to freedom of speech.

So for the last week of September, choose a book and read it!. I’ll list a bunch of books that are currently banned in cities or that are being challenged (almost banned) in cities. You can read as many as you want, or as little as you want. Just spread the word! Exercise your right to read what you want to read.

To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

Uncle Tom’s Cabin – Harriet Beecher Stowe

Where the Wild Things Are – Maurice Sendak

The Call of the Wild – Jack London

The Catcher in the Rye – J.D. Salinger

Gone With The Wind – Margaret Mitchell

Catch 22 – Joseph Heller

Fahrenheit 451 – Ray Bradbury

The Grapes of Wrath – John Steinbeck

In Cold Blood – Truman Capote

The Jungle  – Upton SInclair

Moby Dick – Herman Melville

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

The Perks of Being a Wallflower – Stephen Chbosky

1984 – George Orwell

The Color Purple – Alice Walker

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Ken Kesey

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

Ulysses – James Joyce

AND SO MUCH MORE!!! This is only a fraction of the banned and challenged books! Visit http://www.ala.org for more information on banned books and to see what books are banned and being challenged.

Until next time! Happy reading!

Rachel

email: rachel@booksandcleverness.com