Literature And Society Term Paper

American Cultural Values: Whitman and Otsuka America has been criticized and praised as having one of the most individualistic systems of cultural values in the world, rather than any cohesive system of national ethics. This is partly the result of America's status as a nation of immigrants. However, merely because America is an individualistic nation, and made up of many peoples and ways of life does not mean that the American government and populace has not acted in a racially exclusive and oppressive manner, at times, such as the case of the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

The poet Walt Whitman embodies the individualistic, idealized system of American values in his verse, although he oversaw the tragic consequences of American racism in his own lifetime, in the form of the civil war. When but when Whitman the poet wrote that he sang of himself, he not only celebrated his own individual identity, shorn of any specific references to his lineage or to the religious tradition he comes from, but he celebrated the individualism and plurality of America. Whitman expressed himself in long, winding stretches of free verse that seemed to speak against anything that is of the formulaic European tradition of literature. "Spontaneous me, Nature," he cried. As a poet, he stated, he was one with all that he saw, man and woman,...


(Whitman, "Spontaneous Me," From Leaves of Grass) "I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear ... The delicious singing of the mother -- or of the young wife at work -- or of the girl sewing or washing -- Each singing what belongs to her, and to none else ... (Whitman, "I Hear America singing," From Leaves of Grass)
Japan, in contrast, is noted for its collectivist system of values and its relative uniformity of racial and cultural nature. When the Emperor was Divine, by Julie Otsuka, presents a tightly knit Japanese-American family, which has inherited this tradition in a positive fashion. This family does not stress individualism at its core system of values, but rather a cohesive and obedient family dynamic. However, Otsuka also suggests in her tale, that by seeing all Japanese-Americans as alike, America violated its fundamental creed of individualism, which means seeing every human being as a unique human being, regardless of the class, culture, or the creed they belonged to, before becoming part of the American fabric. The Japanese were interned simply because they appeared to be different, racially, from their neighbors such as the Greeks.

The structure of Otsuka's book both validates the cultural cohesion of Japanese identity, yet manages to show that Japanese-Americans were individuals,…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Otsuka, Julie. When the Emperor Was Divine. New York: Knopf, 2002.

Whitman, Walt. Leaves of Grass. Philadelphia: David McKay, [c1900];, 1999. [14 November 2004].

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