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"Chicago" Analysis

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all group members contributed to the stanza analysis. individual analysis is available at the following links:









First stanza

The first stanza is perhaps the most important because it sets the mood for the rest of the poem.  It characterizes Chicago in terms that are not necessarily positive.  If one views the first line, it begins with "Hog Butcher for the World."  This is sort of describes one of the job descriptions or epithets Chicago is associated with.  This is not perhaps the most glowing image to associate when one thinks of Chicago, but is made up for when he describes it as the "Nation's Freight Handler."  With these two contrasting representations, one can almost guarantee it will be a poem of contrasts, and indeed it is.  Brutal honesty is maintained throughout the work leaving few possibilities for readers to decry the speaker's accuracy or bias.

Second Stanza

The second stanza begins with acceptance.  The speaker accepts that his city has problems.  More than small ones it seems:  prostitution ("painted women"), rampant murder ("killer go free"), and poverty and hunger ("wanton hunger").  He starts out neutral in the first stanza, even negative with few examples of positives, none obvious; now he accepts the faults the city has.    The speaker speaks as if on trial, betraying the conclusion to come.  He says, "They tell me you are wicked," and, "Yes, it is true" as if pleading guilty, but he does not give up as shown in the next part of this stanza  After facing reality, the speaker stands resilient however.  He challenges Chicago's accusers with the line beginning "And having."  This marks a significant change in the mood.

Now he goes on the offensive, challenging someone to find him another city so strong.  It does not appear that niceness, a silly frilly word he would probably say, is one of his main priorities.  He compares Chicago to a coarse animal: strong, wild, and coarse.  Flinging magnetic curses probably means curses that grab and pull in.  Not lightly used but brought deep from within full of righteousness anger at "piling job after job" on it.  He scoffs at the other cities, for they are weak in his eyes.

Third Stanza

Next, we'll take the third stanza as the next indent.

Bareheaded can most nearly mean exposed, uncovered, or, as in a construction site, unprotected.  The speaker describes Chicago as unprotected with this word because the next words, shoveling, wrecking, planning, and building are most closely related to construction work.  This means that Chicago is always changing destroying, rebuilding, and raw in its power.  The last four words can also describe the union's strikes and riots that occurred over prohibition of that time which caused much poverty.  These words sum up, more than anything else, the speaker and probably the author's view of the city. 

Fourth Stanza

First, we look at the image of Chicago as a dirty city, but because this is the optimistic part of the poem, we see the speaker still believes that the city still has some goodness, some purity underneath it all (white teeth).  In the poem, Chicago personified uses its white smile to express joy and laugh.  One can draw the conclusion that from this inner goodness that exists in the city, there is still true joy.  The speaker compares the city to an overconfident underdog (terrible burden, ignorant fighter), endearing it the city to most readers.  He expresses that this pulse, this strength, comes from not the city, but it's citizens.

Fifth Stanza

Laughing is a repeated phrase throughout the fourth and fifth stanzas, and it gets its own line right before the beginning of the last stanza.  It says something that the speaker believes about Chicago and its people:  fearless and impossible to destroy (and a little crazy).  It is a joyous, defiant sort of laugh.  A laugh of an invincible youth at Death and one admiring his worth, strength, and utter honesty; no falsehoods.  The poem ends with a full circle ending to sum up the overall message the poet leaves.

Jim Hays' overall + line-by-line analysis:

The poem opens by listing various large industries located in Chicago, and using these to name Chicago (i.e. job descriptions).  Then Chicago is described as "Stormy, husky, brawling, City of the Big Shoulders" (4,5).  These are traits characteristics of the workers in Chicago who would hold such positions as are listed.  The next three lines give some problems with Chicago:  the night life, the mafia, and the poverty.  However the speaker, in line nine, ceases to dwell so much negative aspects of the city saying that no other city is as strong as Chicago so the other problems aren't as important; all other cities have problems as well.  Lines fourteen through seventeen are words set off on lines by themselves indicating that special attention should be paid to these words.  This is best, most concise summary of the attributes of Chicago that the narrator can create.  Starting in line nineteen to the end the poem has the word laughing appearing in every line.  This seems ironic when placed by the phrase "terrible burden," but raises the question as to why it is there.  This leads to a more in-depth understanding of who Chicago is.  Chicago is the type of place that will defiantly laugh in the face of death and stare down the devil.  His job is no longer a source of shame.  Chicago is "proud to be Hog Butcher, Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, Player with Railroads, and Freight Handler to the Nation." (23)

Dan Hoying's overall analysis: (line-by-line is mixed in above in the stanza analysis)

This poem is one of hope.  I think the poet takes a rather myopic, naive view of his city, but in a way works for the message he sends.  It is one of acknowledgement.  Acknowledging the cities problems, its rougher side, and rather than brushing it off as inconsequential, the speaker and poet do something innovative, he embraces it.  Sandburg not only doesn't ignore it, he states that that is the city's and its citizen's true essence.  Although this may seem insulting to the city's inhabitants, he does not decry the city's dirtier aspect, but says that this is what gives Chicago its strength and allows it to tower over the smaller cities as the great beast of a city.  It is a very serious poem, simple in its message and intent, but nonetheless powerful.  The poet feels that Chicago will face the future ready to fight and win.

Scott Henry's overall analysis:

“Chicago” by Carl Sandburg is an early 1900’s look at brutal but
Chicago, Illinois. The first five lines of this poem are epithets for
city of Chicago. “Hog Butcher for the World, Tool Maker, Stacker of
Wheat…”(1-2) theses line are symbolizing the city. The noun Chicago was
replaced with describing words of the people who live within it
In lines 6-15 the speaker is using apostrophe as he speaks directly to
city of Chicago about what people say of it’s brutality and unfairness.
describes the           s who are “luring the farm boys.”(7) And the
kill and go free to kill again.”(9) To represent the       ting mob
who corrupted the city of Chicago in the era.  At line twelve the poem
a dramatic twist as the speaker starts to defend his city against these
unwanted negative observations. He then challenges these accusers to
find a
better city “ Come and show me another city with lifted head singing so
proud to be alive and coarse and strong and cunning.” (14-15). He
refers to
the city as “bold slugger” (17) this shows his proud attitude of a city
which works for its dollar and has a reason to be live and be happy for
it is and produces. The next few lines is a grouping of substantially
relates analogies for this city he is so proud of living in. “Fierce as
dog with tongue lapping for action,” (18), “Bareheaded,” (20),
(21), “Wrecking, (22), “Planning,” (23), “Building, breaking,
(24) all of these analogies can be associated with the riots which took
place in many northern cities as unions began to become popular in
workplaces. Then in the last three stanzas the poem breaks its sanity
dives into repletion of laughing. The word laughing is repeated nine
The repetition acts as a crazy person would endless taunting laughing
as if
the city and the speaker know of their greatness and cannot hold in the
excitement for the power they hold. The last stanza is a repetition of
first stanza, which brings a round about ending to the poem. In the
beginning those words are forced to be read in negative connotation
then in
the end their connotation is positive and describing the proud city.
stanza has many poetic devices and moods describing the city of
Chicago. As
a reader you can feel the honor given to this city through a great
master by Carl Sandburg.

Nick Riley's analysis:

The poem "Chicago" by Carl Sandburg is set in early 1900s (1910-1925) America.  The poem is told by a speaker, whom the reader can assume is an average American proud to be living is this great city.  The speaker begins the poem by telling the reader about all of the negative aspects of the city of Chicago but ends in the exact opposite stance; as if in marvel and triumph at the greatness of this metropolis.  Following, is a "chunk-by-chunk" analysis of the poem:
-Lines 1-5: This is a description of the city of Chicago.  Negative aspects of this are interspersed with detailed description of them.  The words are capitalized because Sandburg believed that those words are synonymous with the name Chicago.  All of these words are also symbolic of the city itself.-Lines 6-7: These lines are the speaker literally talking to the city, a poetic device called apostrophe.  These aspects of the city are also negative as well as colorful in their description.  -Lines 8-9: This segment is about the speaker defending the negative aspects of Chicago against the people who are critical of the city.  Line 9 is also a change of mood, or a shift in direction of the poem.  From hereafter, the poem is more positive.  Lines 10-17: In line 10 the speaker has changed from being defensive to being offensive when he asks if the people who are critical of Chicago could shot him a city that is better and does not also have the same problems that Chicago does.  Included in these lines are words that could be synonymous with the city: bareheaded, shoveling, wrecking, etc.  Lines 18-22: Here, Sandburg describes the city as if it were a person.  He describes the struggle that it has endured as well as the triumphs it has seen.  Line 23: This line is the final line of the poem which is in a way a "full-circle" ending as it returns to the original thoughts of lines 1-5 but now they have a different connotation due to the new mood the poem has been changed in to.               Chicago by Carl Sandburg is a poem rich in meaning and technical devices.  Sandburg beautifully describes the city which he loves with flowery (in a good way) language and colorful descriptions.     


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