Different view of New York

Views of New York: two different authors

Walt Whitman lived in New York for a part of his life. In Whitman’s readings, you notice he is the immense love he has for the scenery and the American people.

His view of Manhattan is the following:

A million people—manners free and superb—open voices—hospitality—the most courageous and friendly young men; The free city! no slaves! no owners of slaves! The beautiful city, the city of hurried and sparkling waters! the city of spires and masts! Whitman

Charles Dickens visit to they United States and especially New York was heavily anticipated. After his journal entry of describing the tombs and five point slums, Americans had mixed feelings and felt betrayed by the prolific author. He starts off by comparing New York to Boston but only notes the negative things:

The Beautiful Metropolis of America is by no means so clean a city as Boston, but many of its streets have the same characteristics; except that the houses are not quite so fresh colored, the sign-boards are not quite so gaudy, the gilded letters not quite so golden, the bricks not quite so red, the stone not quite so white, the blinds and area railings not quite so green, the knobs and plates upon the street doors not quite so green, and the plates upon the streets doors not quite so bright and twinkling.

It’s as if New York at a first glance looks unpolished and seems to be fading away in comparison to Boston and other Cities in America. Looking at the jail that is affectionately known as the tombs, Dickens portrays the dark side of America.  New York doesn’t seem like the City of the free. Even if someone has committed a crime, they are still entitled to their basic rights. A child is treated no differently and is subjected to these terrible conditions in this prison, a pit of misery where many have committed suicide, hence the name “The Tombs”.

Into this narrow, grave-like place men are brought to die. The wretched creature stands beneath the gibbet on the ground, the rope about his neck’; and when the sign is given a weight at its other end comes running down, and swings him up into the air – a corpse.

This grim depiction of an inmate’s death must have surprised readers. Many readers would be looking for a positive look of things in New York. Charles Dickens audience would be people in England. All we see are all the flaws, which we know exist but are described so feverishly.

1 Comment so far

  1. chuck on October 19th, 2009

    It’s a shame to read such a scathing review of New York after reading Whitman. I would be interested in reading a modern day review written by Dickens, to see if he still compares Boston to NYC in the same way (describing Boston as the superior city). Had Dickens written in a broader sense, i.e. to describe both negative and positive aspects, I think his review would’ve come out more accessible and less bitter.

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