Walt Whitman said that, “Leaves of Grass would not have been possible without the Civil War.” With this statement, I believe that he was asserting that the changes in the attitudes and perspectives of his readers after the war were vital to their overall understanding of the book. While I agree with this, I think that it goes even further than that. For the modern reader there are other events since the Civil War that have made Leaves of Grass possible.”
I will take Whitman’s statement further by investigating another historical event that has made Leaves of Grass possible: the Civil Rights Movement. I will do this by investigating the current cultural significance of the work through the lens of Bakhtin’s theory of “great time.” I will also create a dialogue between Walt Whitman and Martin Luther King Jr. by providing a provocative co-reading of the “I Have a Dream” speech and certain selections from the 1891-92 version of Leaves of Grass. Finally, I will provide a timeline of critical assessments of Walt Whitman to demonstrate the changing perceptions of the man and his work.