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Hospitality in Walt Whitman's Specimen Days

Santiago Rodriguez Guerrero-Strachan


This article explores the concept of hospitality in Walt Whitman’s Specimen Days (1882). The article is informed by a Levinasian reading of the concept since the main argument is that Lévinas’ interpretation of hospitality sheds light on Whitman’s years in Washington during the Civil War and his much debated relation with wounded soldiers. Lévinas’ phenomenology is centered on care of the Other, which leads to the question of how far the self’s personal obligation to respond to the other in need actually extends. Whitman wanted to create a persona that was meaningful and useful in the Civil War and he chose to be a nurse, or, as he called it in a poem, “the wound-dresser”. By writing about the Civil War, he would both put himself in the center of the historical moment and support Lincoln’s decision to fight the South. In Specimen Days he  wanted to write a memorandum of the war that rejected the ‘sanitized’ versions already circulating. He focused on Union soldiers, who were representative of the best American qualities in Whitman’s view and who endured the hardships of the war, the injuries, pain and death included, but he also described the Southern soldiers, who were the ‘ghosts’ of the Union during the Civil War.


Walt Whitman; hospitality; Specimen Days; Civil War; Émmanuel Lévinas

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Miscelánea: A Journal of English and American Studies

ISSN: 1137-6368