A pluralistic approach to Walt Whitman's 'Song of the Open Road' for the oral interpreter : explicative, archetypal and rhetorical analyses



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The purpose of this critical study is to demonstrate the pluralistic approach to literary analysis for the oral interpreter by examining Walt Whitman"s "Song of the Open Road" according to the explicative, the archetypal, and the rhetorical methods of criticism. The importance of literary analysis in oral interpretation is widely agreed upon, but a survey of major interpretation textbooks reveals that literary analysis in oral interpretation is generally limited to an intrinsic textual analysis of the poem. Recognizing that textual explication is an important first step for the interpreter, but not the only one, this study begins with the explicative analysis of the poem, followed by an archetypal analysis and a rhetorical analysis. An explanation of each critical method precedes each analysis of the poem and a discussion of the significance of that approach for the oral interpreter follows each analysis. A comparison of the three analyses reveals that, although the three critical methods arrive at similar answers about the progressive unity of the poem or the tone of optimistic exhortation, each method makes special contributions which add to a more thorough understanding of the poem. The explicative analysis calls for a line-by line explication which the other methods do not. It also demands consideration of various poetic devices, of the relationship of the fifteen sections to the whole, of the position of the fulcrum in section nine, and of the abundant kinesthetic imagery. The archetypal analysis uncovers universal types and motifs and classifies them as devine as opposed to demonic. Unlike the others the archetypal approach compares the "I" figure and the road motif to similar images in other poems and attempts to reveal man"s natural participation in the collective unconscious. The rhetorical analysis, unlike the other two, views the poem as persuasion. It considers Whitman as speaker, his message, and his audience and makes conclusions as to the failure of the immediate rhetorical attempt. The pluralistic approach to literary criticism gives the interpreter a multi-dimensional view of the persona and prevents him from making too literal or too abstract an interpretation. To avoid a shallow analysis, the interpreter should be on guard against excessive faith in a single approach and consider any analysis which will send him to his interpretative act with illumination.