The American Cacophony

“I know why the caged bird sings.”

I too, Maya, but perhaps in a different understanding from you.

‘Twas just my meager attempt at being culturally literate, even though the poem does illustrate one voice of the “American Cacophony.” Said “harsh, discordant mixture of sounds,” according to dictionary.com, is perhaps the closest word to giving the idea of each individual singing his own song and proclaiming his own tune a proper manifestation in our mind’s eye. Truly, when taking the phrase “to each his own” and adding “song” on its tail end, a new dimension is added to the well known maxim: instead of a combination of individuals, the American dream has become the American’s song (or rather, songs).

The individual’s song is not solely a modern expression, but has gained popularity in current times. While the songs in Cullen’s “Yet Do I Marvel”, McKay’s “America”, Whitman’s “I Hear America Singing”, and in Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin may not be of the same individual or even of the same society, they all agree on one thing: each individual owns his song. Predominantly an American idea, individualism is relatively new in terms of world history; instead of a man being identified by his religion or his king or is occupation, he is now identified by the name he carries, and the song he sings.

In his poem “I Hear America Singing”, Walt Whitman takes the American dream of freedom and individualism and modifies it to incorporate the many voices that combine to make an anthem worth following. Freedom, in its many nuances and overreaching ideals, can now be constrained in a simple song. In America, or what we wish America was,  and according to Whitman, the American anthem to which we pledge our honor and livelihood is not a single song, but is made up of every citizen singing his own inharmonious song. It is not beautiful. It is not melodious. It is not orchestrated. It is the variance and freedoms which every man, freed or enslaved, proclaims to make his song.

Hence, the American Cacophony.

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One comment

  1. The word cacophony was the first that came to my mind when we discussed this poem the other day. I wonder what the alternative to a cacophonous society would be. I think of St. Clare’s rather cacophonous plantation (shiftless and unorganized) as opposed to his brother Alfred’s, who you know must rule his slaves with an iron fist.

    Is there a way to create a polyphony of harmonious and beautiful voices, a chorus in which no voice is done the slightest violence?

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