Study Guide

Song of the Open Road Appearances

By Walt Whitman


If you walk along the open road long enough, chances are that you're going to be the worse for wear. Your pants will get dirty, your shirt will start to stink, and you'll definitely have some dusty loafers. But that is what the real you looks like—at least according to this poem.

The fake you, on the other hand, is one that is hidden behind an appearance that only travel can strip away: "Where is he who tears off the husks for you and me?/ Where is he that undoes stratagems and envelopes for you and me?" (90-91). The speaker wants to get to that real, inner self—the one who hides like a juicy ear of corn inside a husk, or a meaningful letter inside an envelope. These metaphors suggest that the day-to-day, non-traveling versions of ourselves are just a cover for something more interesting that lurks underneath.

Later, that lurker becomes metaphorically, "Another self, a duplicate of every one, skulking and hiding it goes,/ Formless and wordless through the streets of the cities, polite and bland in the parlors" (204-205). In other words, it's the dry, boring, vanilla version of you that does what's expected. Once you break free of that and hit the road, our speaker suggests with this imagery, that humdrum appearance will fall away and the real you will be revealed.

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