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Themes

Ah, the hardest part of a Whitman poem: figuring out just who's doing the talking. Who is this "I" who claims to be watching us like a ghost? The speaker tries to identify with everything in the world, to the point that he seems to want to contain everything, or at least reflect it like a mirror. He compares people to actors and says that the body is the key to understanding one's identity. In "Crossing Brooklyn Ferry," we're all just containers of marvelous solids and fluids.

Questions About Identity

  1. Put the following line into your own words: "I too received identity by my body."
  2. Does Whitman divide identity into two parts, the rational and the irrational?
  3. What role does instinct and animal nature play in the poem?
  4. Why does he use the word "Manhattanese," and what does it imply to you?

Chew on This

Try on an opinion or two, start a debate, or play the devil’s advocate.

The speaker of the poem has no independent self. He's just a mirror of the world around him.

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