During the 19th century, new economic relations arose that constructed vast urban areas and a consumer culture that directly influenced how Whitman, Baudelaire, and Zola perceived their surroundings. New York and Paris were two of the greatest capitals of 19th century modernity. New York during this period was the center of wealth due to the establishment of the American financial system by Alexander Hamilton (PBS). As a result the city became artefactual and an unfolding center of diversity because it developed into a magnet for immigrants and others pursuing their American dream.
The dawn of the 19th century sparked the Gilded Age, which is a period in the US following the Civil War and Reconstruction. Walt Whitman recognized New York as the epicenter of corruption brought about by the avaricious and wealthy businessmen (Hirschhorn, 1998). Paris’ 19th century urban upheaval can be viewed in the works of Emile Zola and Charles Baudelaire. The city is undergoing its modernization while Zola and Baudelaire commemorate the life of the flaneur, who is overlooking life in the city as he strolls the streets of Paris.
Walt Whitman was a man with egalitarian principles and believed in sameness. We can witness this in section six where the speaker declares, “Growing among black folks as among white, / Kanuck, Tuckahoe, Congressman, Cuff, I give them the same, I receive them the same”
Whitman’s America is one where everyone is worthy and not where just a few are fortunate. In his poem Song of Myself, he embodied the otherness and composed it into a positive thing. Whitman witnessed the transformation New York was going through with the incoming foreigners. In this poem he tries to evoke all our senses through a metaphorical journey, set in New York but doesn’t confine himself therefore he jumps from rural and urban settings. The variety of the settings reflected the diversity of the people which were entering America from all over the world seeking an opportunity.
He celebrates the nation’s expansion with growing numbers and believes the people are united through their individualism as a whole. The constitutional right to freedom of speech was ratified long before Song of Myself was composed, and Whitman decided to declare this right in the first section of the poem. He was able to express himself without any constraints which rooted the expectation for Americans to utilize their own voice, which further stressed the true nature of individualism (Denham, 2017). Whitman’s democratic sensibility is one of his outstanding facets because he cares for all beings and believes the fate of humanity is within us all.
Emile Zola and Charles Baudelaire were individuals who wrote about Paris during the 19th century, where the culture of enticement was commencing. The middle class in France saw itself as yielding the “moral” backbone of society (Guan, 2017). Zola was a naturalist who wrote stories referring to the idea that the human character was dictated and determined by the environment which surrounded them. Zola also proclaimed human beings were driven by their instincts and passions, in addition to forces of heredity and environment (Berg, 2018).
Baudelaire’s blatant realism bought awareness to the spiritual crisis of modernity and urban social poverty. In Baudelaire’s poem The Flower of Evil he described the darkness and poor conditions of modern Paris in the 19th century. In this poem he celebrates the evil lurking inside the average reader. Baudelaire felt modern poetry had to evoke the paradoxical aspects of life. He illustrates the experience of life in an urban metropolis in a rapidly industrializing Paris during the 19th century.
Emile Zola’s The Ladies’ Paradise illustrated modern consumption through the emergence of department stores, and the masculine motives lurking behind it. It also depicts the transitioning state of Paris, predominantly in the social sphere and the relation between the Parisian’s human nature and love for each other. Octave Mouret and the other department store owners are behind the Parisian consumerist culture of enticement, with their ruthless ambition for their stores. The victims of this culture were the shopping women of the 19th century, which completely neglects the women’s part in society.
It denies all agency to women because they lose the capacity to act independently and make their own free choices. Mouret is seen as a master of exploiting the desires of his female costumers as is stated in the book by fitting out the main hall like an Eastern bazaar, which he knew women couldn’t resist. Behind the beautiful displays of the department store is an insensitive and relentless puppet master of female impulse, who enjoys luring female customers with an excess of luxurious delights. Zola’s overly sexualized view of consumerism in the late 19th century made women be seen as objects to be possessed and controlled (Pusey, 2016). Mouret would lure women who were supported by wealthy men, making them their property.
Charles Baudelaire’s The Flowers of Evil was written from the perspective of aesthetics and sharply detailed the darkness and poor conditions of modern Paris during the 19th century. Baudelaire’s work depicts anger, hatred, jealousy, greed, deception, killing, laziness, and alcoholism, and used the words “hell” and “evil” to characterize Paris. His work was convicted for immorality and thus rejected. He associated the rejection to the mockery of a bourgeoisie incapability of understanding artistic innovation. Flowers of Evil mimic his observations of the darkness and ugliness or Paris of those who are at the bottom of the social ladder, and banned from the modern city (Guan, 2017).
Baudelaire can be seen as a flaneur of society in Paris depicting social tumors. He wrote Flowers of Evil through the attitude of an aesthete therefore he dug out the beauty from the ugliness. All imagines in the Spleen(IV) were disturbing and ugly. For instance the rotting beams, heavy prison bars, the lost and homeless souls, and disgusting spiders but they depicted an aesthetic beauty within a cruel environment. The connections Baudelaire made with ugliness and beauty and evil lead him to see the beauty in hell. Baudelaire portrays Satan as the incarnation of evil but he also retains power and valor to endure pain.
Within Song of Myself, The Flowers of Evil, and The Ladies’ Paradise there is a sense of conflicting desires. Whitman desires equality within Song of Myself. Whitman experiences objects by their core elements, atoms. Atoms are the elementary unit of the universe and thus everyone is equal because we are all created by the same elements. Charles Baudelaire desired to celebrate the vices lurking inside the typical reader. Baudelaire expresses how ennui is the worst of the many vices in mankind and recognizes it in himself, and also desires the reader to share this vice. Within Emile Zola’s novel The Ladies Paradise the desires of power and affluence appear through Mouret. Mouret’s desires are very much selfish due to the fact to his ruthless attributes for luring females into his department store.
Vast urban areas and consumer culture were new economic relations which arose during the 19th century. This influenced how Whitman, Baudelaire, and Zola viewed their surroundings and how they would later recognize it in their works. They were in the center of two of the greatest capitals of the 19th century modernity, Paris and New York. Paris was undergoing its modernization while Zola and Baudelaire honor the life of the flaneur through The Ladies’ Paradise and The Flowers of Evil. New York was perceived as the Mecca of diversity in addition to the epicenter of corruption and Walt Whitman expressed this in his poem Song of Myself.