Brass Spittoons Analysis

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In “Brass Spittoons,” Hughes demonstrates the ways in which the American Dream fails due to an absence of unity. In “I Hear America Singing,” however, Whitman illustrates a vision of America in which peoples of all professions and class levels revel in both individuality and unity. Through each poet’s unique rhetoric and thematic use of opposites, Hughes and Whitman develop images of the American Dream that contrast in their exploration of unity and individualism, the perception of work, and symbols of the American Dream itself. One’s view of America as a country of class division or unison affects the view of the self and the view of the non-self. The construct of unity in “Brass Spittoons” includes a separation of class and race that leads…show more content…
Through the use of antonomasia, descriptors of occupations characterize the people in the poem. The speaker witnesses “[t]he boatman singing” (Whitman 7), as well as “the deckhand singing” (Whitman 8). These titles solidify each person’s place in the unified class to which they belong, but also supply them with individuality. The thematic use of opposites explores the beauty of unity when segmented, presenting a display of synecdoche in which the individual workers unify to make up America itself. Aside from the speaker, each person “[sings] what belongs to him or her and to none else” (Whitman 15). Their lives fulfil the American Dream, which bestows upon them a sense of autonomy. The speaker himself rejoices in witnessing and hearing “the varied carols” (Whitman 1), but does not join their songs. Where Hughes’s speaker inserts himself into the failed plot of the American Dream, Whitman’s speaker distances himself from the positive America he witnesses and instead becomes solely an onlooker. His personal exclusion from this song of America lends him a form of credibility, in which he provides an unbiased opinion of the lives he sees at…show more content…
In both poems, the people are characterized by their profession. This depiction either strengthens their ties to America as a whole, or degrades them from a humans into cogs in the machine. The speaker of “Brass Spittoons” considers the negatives of his work, claiming that “[t]he steam in hotel kitchens, / And the smoke in hotel lobbies, / And the slime in hotel spittoons: / Part of [his] life” (Hughes 7-10). Hughes’s paired use of parallelism and enjambment evokes the monotony and incessantness of the speaker’s life. To him, the idea of labor is a force from which he cannot escape. He also repeatedly focuses on the monetary aspect of labor, reciting “A nickel, / A dime, / A dollar, / Two dollars a day” (Hughes 12-15). Although a full day’s work is two dollars, the speaker also keeps nickels, dimes, and singular dollars in his thoughts. The inclusion of these increasing monetary values reveals the speaker’s mindset throughout the day. In order to cope with the labor forced upon him, the speaker takes some small solace in counting up to his final pay each day. Unlike the cheerful characters in “I Hear America Singing,” who seem to revel in their work, Hughes’s speaker views his work as an unfortunate necessity. He is not a slave, and therefore has the illusion of freedom and choice. In truth, however, he is
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