The most prevalent theme throughout Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself 51 and Judy Grahn’s, Ella in a square apron, along highway 51 is “strength” and “individualism” in terms of femininity and masculinity, respectively. Grahn’s collection of poems illustrates the experience of what it means to be a “common woman” during a time shaped by patriarchal values and sexist stereotypes.
Grahn compares the Common Woman (Ella) to “as common as a rattlesnake.” Ella is dangerous, powerful, and violent; she embodies the animal’s strength, as described in lines 6-7.
“She keeps her mind the way men keep a knife-keen to strip the game down to size.”
Although she puts on a strong exterior, the problem persists as the reader is given specific insight into her abusive past in line 16.
“once, she shot a lover who misused her child.”
“Before she got out of jail, the courts had pounced
and given the child away.”
Although Ella shows her strength as a woman and mother, society wins by entitling men to control even when the situation is their fault. Ella’s child is taken from her, and she is left alone as a victim of patriarchy.
In Walt Whitman’s section 51, there is the theme of possibility. The poem opens with a new chance by stating.
“The past and present wilt—I have fill’d them, emptied them.And proceed to fill my next fold of the future.”
The speaker is striving for a new future and desires to manifest this experience through self-identity, something that Ella rejects.