Discussion Questions:

1. In Whitman’s closing dedication in Memoranda, he memorializes the dead of the war equally, “or North or South.”  Does this sectional equality carry through in Whitman’s treatment of specific soldiers encountered during the course of Memoranda?  How does his treatment of Southern soldiers differ from that of Northern soldiers, if at all?  Does this treatment change over the course of Whitman’s journey through Memoranda?  How about over publication history (compare early journalism to Memoranda)?

2. Do the fifty or so individual soldiers encountered in Memoranda comprise a “cross-section of the democratic nation,” as Betsy Errkila suggests (see Critical Issues)?  How does the cross-section differ when one examines the soldiers with and without reference to the annotations’ demographic supplement?  

3. The annotations to Memoranda correct Whitman’s historical chronology at several points.  Discuss one instance where Whitman bent the historical record, and speculate on why he did so. 

Research Topics: 

1. Follow the life cycle of a particular passage of Whitman's prose, tracing its changes and development as it moves from initial notebook jotting, to periodical publication, to Memoranda During the War, to republication in the larger collection Two Rivulets, to yet another republication in a different type of collection, Specimen Days.  What changes does Whitman make and for what purposes?  How does the meaning of the passage change because of the setting in which it appears in each case? 

2. Compare William Douglas O'Connor's nineteenth-century fictional representation of Whitman's hospital work in "The Carpenter" to recent representations of him in such stories as Fred Chappell's "Ancestors" (Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture, March 1991, 17-26) Alan Gurganus's "Reassurance" (White People [New York: Ballantine, 1990], 181-91), and Chris Adrian's "Every Night for a Thousand Years" (The New Yorker, 6 October 1997, 96-103).

3. Whitman renewed correspondence with several soldiers (Bethuel Smith, Reuben Farwell, Benton Wilson, and Manville Wintersteen) in the year prior to publication of Memoranda.  Using their correspondence and post-War experiences, how might these contacts have influenced Whitman’s publication? (Many of the letters soldiers wrote Whitman can be found in Charley Shiveley, Drum Beats: Walt Whitman's Civil War Boy Lovers [San Francisco: Gay Sunshine Press, 1989].)

4. Memoranda was published in 1875-76, at the end of Reconstruction. In 1876 the nation was in both its centennial year and a presidential election year.  How might these events have influenced Whitman’s work?

Teaching Units: 

1. Assign students the texts in "The Wound Dresser Remembered" section.  Discuss the differing perspectives on and judgments of Whitman's war experiences.  What issues are important to these commentators?  Why are these issues important to them?  What criteria do they use to judge Whitman's wartime activities?  How do their views on Whitman's war work effect their evaluations of his poetry?  How do various historical events--Reconstruction, industrialization, immigration, the women's rights movement, the First World War--effect the ongoing evaluation of Whitman's war experiences and his war literature?

2. Assign students to search through Whitman's journalism, Memoranda, and the texts in "The Wound Dresser Remembered" for passages and sections that address the issues of manhood and male-male relationships.  How does Whitman represent his emotional relationships with the soldiers in Memoranda?  Using Memoranda as evidence, discuss Whitman's theory of "adhesiveness" amongst men.  How were Whitman's male-male relationships and his manhood portrayed by commentators?  Contrast male love in O'Connor's "The Carpenter," where the Whitman-like protagonist shares a "love passing the love of women" with another man, to Higginson's contempt for what he considered Whitman's "Unmanly Manhood."

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