Nate’s Outline for Short Essay 1

(on Chicago Poems)

  1. Introduction
    1. Sandburg has an interesting and not altogether standard relationship with violence, complicated by his poems’ political messages
    2. abhors daily and routine violence of government against the people
    3. at other points seems to condone (or at least passively accept) violence (i.e., “the Dynamiter”)
    4. for Sandburg, violence is at once a terrible evil and a unfortunate necessity of life; although he speaks out against it on principle, he admits its inevitability, especially towards the construction of the socialist state
  2. Unjust Violence
    1. shows through visual imagery the terrible state of violence by government against the people
    2. still, the division between the government and it’s people is blurred
    3. in Government: “Everywhere I saw that Government is a thing made of men, that Government has blood and bones.”
    4. violence perhaps is not a thing classified so easily into good or evil
  3. Weakening of Resolve
    1. in Dynamiter: “laughter of an unshakable man knowing life to be a rich and red-blooded thing”
    2. the poem might be read as the speaker passively allowing violence to occur OR
    3. the speaker could be seen as praising this violence, showing how “rich” and fulfilling the life of the dynamiter is
    4. this poem stands in contrast to some of Sandburg’s other poems that show the plight of the victims of this violence; those victims are not shown here at all
  4. Violence as Inevitability
    1. this seeming contradiction might find resolution in Choose
    2. in Choose: “The single clench fist lifted and ready, / Or the open asking hand held out and waiting. / Choose: / For we meet by one or the other.”
    3. violence is not the best option, merely the most prevalent one
    4. if social injustice is not overcome, social upheaval through violence is inevitable
  5. Conclusion



Nate —

Subtle and illuminating!   I’m impressed that you’ve come up with this carefully structured and entirely original outline, tracing three stages in Sandburg’s thinking about violence, and yielding a complexly evolving argument.   The poems that you choose, and the meditations that they occasion, suggest that even though violence itself is blunt and univocal, the contexts for it can be fluid and open-ended.        — wd

This is a great topic and I think your choice to focus solely on the poems is unique! One thing we didn’t discuss much in class is Sandburg’s poem, “N*gger”. I think it may enhance your argument to comment on that poem in your last paragraph where you say “if social injustice is not overcome, social upheaval through violence is inevitable.” Of course, Sandburg is writing these pieces before the civil rights movement, but in a modern context there seems to be something too generous about leaving Sandburg’s views of race out of analysis of his intentions on injustice and violence. Overall this seems really well-developed already! -KS

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