Walt Whitman, Bruce Springsteen, and The Working Class Hero

For my final paper, I will be exploring the lineage and relationship between Walt Whitman and Bruce Springsteen.  By looking at these two fully “American” figures, I will be viewing their writings as it pertains to the American working class.  My argument is that Springsteen, “the foremost purveyor of American working-class rock and roll” (Smith, 302), is not only heavily influenced by the writings of Walt Whitman but also seeks to continue and fulfill Whitman’s American tradition and his dreams for the working class.

The American working class, a tradition that is ensnared in the “constructions of race, gender, and sexuality” (Carman, 2), is at the heart of Whitman and Springsteen.  Greg Smith notes how “Whitman envisioned the American working class of the future as having a better existence than those of his own day” (303); however, Whitman’s grand aspirations for the American working class that balanced individual freedom with the public good never seemed to take root in America.  Springsteen, building off of the roots set by Whitman, currently seeks to improve the lives of the American people and through the medium of rock and roll has been able to reach out to the masses in ways that Whitman only dreamed. These two artists not only share passions for the open road and the working class, as exemplified in Whitman’s poems “A Backward Glance O’er Travel’d Roads,” “I Hear American Singing,” and “Song of Myself,” and Springsteen’s “Born to Run,” “Thunder Days,” and Darkness on the Edge of Town, but they also embrace the individual, the community, the other, as they stress the heroism of the everyday.

Grounded in Whitman’s artistic tradition, Springsteen stresses “that the natural rights of freedom and equality [must] be granted to all Americans” (Carman, 227).   My guiding research question for this paper is to what extent does Springsteen fall into the same tradition as Whitman, and how is Springsteen furthering this tradition, as he writes for the American working class?

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