What does Ella’s future hold?

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.

One thought on “What does Ella’s future hold?”

  1. Hi! First of all, I found your comparison and contrast of Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself and Judy Grahn’s, Ella in a square apron, along highway 80 to be incredibly insightful. Although I didn’t write an analysis relating these two poems, and instead focused on a specific stanza in Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself, I found several connections in how the stanza I analyzed relates to your analysis. I wrote about the stanza in Song of Myself that says, “I merely stir, press, feel with my fingers, and am happy,/To touch my person to some one else’s is about as much as I can stand” and interpreted these words as Whitman’s ode to the joy of purely existing in the body and the world. I found this stanza to be related to stanza 51 of the poem, that you discussed, because both highlight the privilege of joy in possibility and new beginnings. I enjoy how you spoke about this focus that Whitman had on looking towards the future and how his words of hope complement Grahn’s poem which is full of despair, suffering, and hopelessness. The stanza I focused on meshes well with your focus, as it supports the hopefulness and curiosity of the future that Whitman expresses, while simultaneously contrasting the harsh and sad reality of suffering. I also focused on Whitman’s theme of privilege in Song of myself. Although it is inaccurate to assume that everyone has the same level of privilege, Whitman’s words in the stanza highlight the importance of looking at things through an optimistic lens and noticing the often-overlooked privilege we all share of existing. I find it to be powerful in adding this layer of a lens of privilege in looking at Grahn’s poem, as it questions Whitman’s claim of the universal privilege of joy in existence, highlighting a woman’s existence that is far from joyous.

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