Literary Analysis Of Carl Sandburg's 'And They Obey'
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Carl Sandburg, often referred to as “the poet of the people”, utilized poetry as a means for social reform. Engrossed in the so-called “Gilded Age” of the early 20th century, Sandburg focused most of his work on exposing the corrupt foundations of the nation’s dazzling successes. Having grown up as a poor laborer, Sandburg focused almost exclusively on the treatment of the working class in works such as “I am the People, the Mob” and “And They Obey”. To add emphasis to his cause, Sandburg utilized poetic techniques such as free verse, repetition, rhetorical questions, and contradictions. Sandburg hoped to alter the political and social conscience of the country through his poetry rather than the traditional approach of political participation.…show more content… The over-arching tone of war and post-war society was likely influenced by Sandburg’s own experience serving in the Spanish-American war. Less direct and self-explanatory than “I am the People, the Mob”, “And They Obey” relies more on the interpretation of the audience. Two unnamed groups interact within the poem: “they” or ”you”, and “we”. It is assumed that the “they” within the title, as well as the “you” being commanded, is the obedient working class to the demanding “we” of the government. The juxtaposition of the two stanzas emphasizes the futile work of the laborers commanded to “Smash down the cities” only to later “Build up the cities” (Sandburg, 1, 9). The submission of the workers, obeying to the commands given to them and adopting the roles they are assigned, is portrayed in a negative light when presented with the pointlessness of the contradictory demands. In regards to “I am the People, the Mob”, Sandburg directly presents the idea of self-awareness amongst the working class as more than they are given credit for as a solution to their mistreatment. “And They Obey” further supports this claim by showcasing the powerful abilities of the working class to smash down entire cities and rebuild them once more, and contrasting them with the pointless and abusive demands of the government. Both poems, utilizing poetic devices to emphasize the unfair treatment of the laborers, effectively persuade the audience into understand and recognize their critical importance to the success of the