Close Reading of Narration in Gertrude Stein and Walt Whitman

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Walt Whitman has a particular style of narration that is identifiable as the voice of Whitman, full of detail and intimacy. Gertrude Stein’s narrative voice tells her readers an incredibly detailed story that is also intimate and genuine. The narration of details of anything is a challenge. A writer has to convey the often-overlooked minutia of something without being boring and losing their audiences. Stein and Whitman used their particular style of narration in order to overcome this challenge and execute two beautifully written poems that are neither boring nor reasons to ignore them. Whitman and Stein use syntax styles that utilize all five senses of readers, keeping readers engaged and paying attention.

In the poem, “I Sing the Body Electric,” Whitman takes the approach of narrating appreciation for the body and all of the ways in which it is unique. The narration tells a story in poetic verse, breaking down each part of the body to be appreciated. Gertrude Stein wrote, “From Tender Buttons,” to magnify her appreciation for everyday items that normally don’t get a second glance. Both Whitman and Stein narrated poems that use an appreciative lens to take a closer look at the human body and everyday items such as buttons that often go ignored on a daily basis. The sights, sounds, rhythms, and feelings of each detail are conveyed in both Whitman and Stein’s narration that makes both poems memorable and articulate in execution.

O my Body! I dare not desert the likes of you in other men and women, nor the likes of the parts of you;
I believe the likes of you are to stand or fall with the likes of the Soul, (and that they are the Soul😉  
I believe the likes of you shall stand or fall with my poems—and that they are poems,  
Man’s, woman’s, child’s, youth’s, wife’s, husband’s, mother’s, father’s, young man’s, young woman’s poems;  
Head, neck, hair, ears, drop and tympan of the ears,  
Eyes, eye-fringes, iris of the eye, eye-brows, and the waking or sleeping of the lids,  
Mouth, tongue, lips, teeth, roof of the mouth, jaws, and the jaw-hinges,  
Nose, nostrils of the nose, and the partition,  
Cheeks, temples, forehead, chin, throat, back of the neck, neck-slue,  
Strong shoulders, manly beard, scapula, hind-shoulders, and the ample side-round of the chest.

(Whitman, Stanza 9)

Whitman captures the tiniest of facets to the body of a human being, soul and all in a way that tells the readers that the narrator has done their research and isn’t just telling a yarn. Stein narrates a catalog of sorts of items that are around but not necessarily begging for attention. Among those items, Stein pays attention to a handkerchief, a seltzer bottle, a chair, a piano, a feather, and eyeglasses. One particular object she focuses on is colored hats.

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Colored hats are necessary to show that curls are worn by an addition of blank spaces, this makes the difference between single lines and broad stomachs, the least thing is lightening, the least thing means a little flower and a big delay a big delay that makes more nurses than little women really little women. So clean is a light that nearly all of it shows pearls and little ways. A large hat is tall and me and all custard whole. (Stein, page209)

Both writers take completely different approaches to narrating stylistically similar poems. Each showing audiences an appreciation for something they may have overlooked but should pay attention to. Both pieces speak to each writer’s talents, which is remarkable.

Whitman being a man and Stein being a woman may have contributed to their approaches in narrative styles, since gender dictates how the world treats an individual. I speculate that Stein may have picked out different aspects of the human body to point out and highlight if she were to write a poem such as “I Sing the Body Electric.” I also speculate that Whitman may have picked out different items in his life to point out and highlight if he were to write “From Tender Buttons.” Stylistically both writers have similar narrative styles that are voiced through their gender-specific points of view.

 

 

Works Cited

Stein, Gertrude. “From Tender Buttons.” Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine. The Norton

Anthology of American Literature. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.

Whitman, Walt. “I Sing the Body Electric.” Nina Baym and Robert S. Levine. The

Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.

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