The founding of the colonies and the United States has plenty of paradoxes. Yes, the Puritans wanted a land free to worship as they pleased, but they wanted the freedom of religion for themselves, not anybody else. The abused and kicked out nonconformists.
The Puritan legacy left us with a positive American work ethic, but they attributed all to God. The people worked hard because the "chosen" were hard workers. Since they did not know if they were chosen, they were strict and obedient, to illustrate that they might be among the few.
The Puritans were the chosen, but God did not respect them or their work. They could not earn paradise, nor produce good. All virtue came from God. Puritans were the dust of the earth, until God told them different. They never knew if they were chosen, so they worked their asses off just in case.
Everything was attributed to God, from the sunrise, to the daffodil, to the plague. Occurrences were the will of God, even down to an eye infection. All events were manifestations of God and his will. The sick and lame were punished for their evil deeds. A plague was God's vengeance upon his prideful animals.
The Puritans believed they produced nothing good except through God. They humbled themselves before God, accepting no praise or pride for anything positive they did. They debased themselves before God, thinking themselves as the dirt and nothing more.
Imagine how you might feel about yourself if these were your beliefs. Pride, positive self esteem, and a healthy self image were evils, illustrating that you put yourself before God. You were nothing and God was everything.
Understanding this is essential to the revolutionary quote from Walt Whitman's "Song of Myself." Whitman was first to tell the Puritan's and God to "fuck off," and I use those strong words consciously in order to depict the audacity his poem of revolt. Giving the poem the title "Song of Myself" rejected God as the source of all good, and told the public that Whitman was bold, proud, and evil. The three words in themselves were a revolt against all things Puritan.
He proclaims that "I celebrate myself, and sing myself," a hymn to himself and his goodness as a human being. He was proud and defiant, asserting himself on the public and refusing to bend to any power above himself. He goes on further to say that we, the readers, must assume the truth of what he says. God does not determine the spoken word; Walt Whitman does.
Whitman sheds the burden of self-loathing and flagellation that the Puritans wallowed in, demanding to be heard and respected. Yet despite his glorification of self, he does not elevate himself above other people. He says that every part of him (atom) belongs to us, and by implication, every atom of us belongs to him, a theme he develops throughout the poem. All humanity and nature are connected.
Whitman heeds the call of the transcendentalist leader, Ralph Waldo Emerson who said "To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment." Emerson called for a new, American voice and spirit, and Whitman rose as the poet of the self, not of god. These are the themes of the Transcendentalists.
By Darin L. Hammond
Writer for ZipMinis and owns ZipMinis Freelance Writing. Darin Publishes across the web on sites like Technorati, BC Blog, Blog Critics, Broowaha, Demand Media Studios, and Social Media Today. Google