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Hey, "You"

Symbol Analysis

Didn't you know that you were one of the main characters of this poem? It's not like you had a choice. It seems like Whitman mentions "you" in every other line. His goal is to force you, whether you like or not, to identify with him. He wants you to learn from him, but also to travel your own path. However, "you" is not a stable idea in the poem any more than "I" is. "You" could be anything from natural phenomena to the literal reader.

  • Section 1: Whitman exaggerates (hyperbole) in claiming that "every atom" of himself belongs to you, the reader.
  • Section 2: He often poses rhetorical questions to the reader – he likes to turn the screws a bit. Here he tries to find out what we consider to be large or meaningful.
  • Section 24: He repeats the phrase "it shall be you" at the end of several lines in a row to talk about who and what he will worship. He likens parts of nature metaphorically to body parts. In one particularly juicy metaphor, he compares the wind to "soft-tickling genitals."
  • Section 40: As he has done throughout the poem, the speaker addresses people and things that cannot respond, which is called apostrophe. He addresses the earth, sun, and a weak ("impotent") person.
  • Section 46: You ask questions too.
  • Section 47: He addresses the readers as if we were his students and wanted to learn from him. He says, "My words itch at your ears till you understand them."
  • Section 52: In the metaphor of the poem as a journey, he leaves us at the end, only to wait for us further on up the road. The last word of this "I"-centered poem is, surprisingly, "you."

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