Critical Analysis of “Song of Myself” section 11
In my critical analysis of Song of Myself Section 11, Whitman takes us into the erotic fantasy world of a 19th century spinster. Given the proto feminism of this Era, one could only imagine the scandal society would have subjected this innocent women to, had she been exposed for having normal sexual desires and voyeuristic thoughts. Because in today’s society this considered completely acceptable. Whitman’s Sonnet defies the norms of social restriction for this time period, and we see how a successful, mature woman can not be promiscuous but still enjoy the beauty of the opposite sex and perhaps indulging in pleasuring herself as she does so.
In the first stanza we see the number 28 used three times. It is used to explain the number of men bathing and the age of the woman. This number 28 can hold several meanings. The first is the normal number of days I’m a women’s menstrual cycle. This can be a painful reminder of fertility and birth, both of which the woman has not experienced. Whether she does this by choice or not is not revealed. What we do know is that she is single. She is considered a spinster by definition, for a single 28 year old woman in the 19th century was frowned upon for not having achieved the crown of “marriage and children”. The “28 men are friendly bathing” and “28 year old lonely woman” are examples of antithesis and parallelism. We also see an example of anaphora in the repeated use of the word “twenty-eight”.
The second stanza uses consonance in line 202 by the repeated use of the letter “S” in “She owns the fine house by the rise of the bank” The repeated “S” can also be an subtle illusion to the sexual undertones of the Sonnet. The uses of alliteration are also used in line 203 “She he hides handsome and richly drest aft the blinds of the window” with the letter “H”.
The third stanza she expresses her attraction to the homliest of the men, which one can interpret she might be attracted to such characteristics, because she herself is considered an insecure, introvert. We surmise this because she hides behind the blinds and does not wish to been.
In line 206 we see a Volta. The change of tone or perception because the lady goes from the speaker to the poem to the subject of the poem. The 29th swimmers gender is also up for Interpretation. Is the swimmer a woman? We can’t conclude this.
Another literary device used several times in this Sonnet is double entendre. In line 211 “little streams pass’d all over their bodies” and in line 215 “They do not know who puffs and declines with pendant and bending” Another double entendre in the last line of section 11 is “They do not think whom they souse with spray.
Whitman took us through a risqué, and at times confusing, journey with a woman who is wrestling with her sexuality and identity. We are not clear if she joins the 28 men in satisfying her sexual needs and desires, or if she simply sits at the window and indulges by herself, but The reader is kept on her toes as the narrators shift. There is no question that this Sonnet will leave you open to many different interpretations. What we know for sure is Whitman broke the glass ceiling and introduced literature to one of the first truly epic, modern poems of the 19th century.