Outline for Essay #2 – Motifs_YI (DR)

Motif: The self and the city

Thesis: Whitman, Whitehead, and Gopnik each explore the motif of the city and the self from a unique perspective; yet, they all choose this motif because it allows the reader to personally relate to the texts.

Three Texts:

  1. Colson Whitehead’s “Brooklyn Bridge”
  2. Walt Whitman’s “Crossing Brooklyn Ferry”
  3. Adam Gopnik’s  “The People on the Bus”


Discovery: there is an eternal struggle between the city and the self. The individual attempts to achieve a vision that he has for himself, while the city attempts to hide the individual amongst the crowd. The strong individual will keep trying, while the weak individuals give up. Allows the reader to empathize with the subjects.

Supporting Quotes:

  • “for a while she is seduced by honey talk, but then she looks to the side…and she’s waist level to buildings. Up in the air before she knew it” (100)
  • “Years ago she picked a window and told herself one day she would live behind that window and watch them walk on the bridge like she walks now” (103)
  • “on the other side there is no more dreaming. Just solid ground. So put if off for as long as possible” (108)
  • “feeling that disappointed feeling”
  • “the key to the city fell out of her pocket somewhere along the way and she’s level again” (108)
  • “pick a new route into”
  • “Who knows where she will end up this time. Disappear into a crowd. It’s right there in the city charter: we have the right to disappear. The city rushes to hide all trace. It’s the law” (109)


Discovery: Whitman contradicts himself in his claim that “place…avails not.” Throughout the rest of the poem Whitman shows how place does matter. As a reader, it is easier to relate to Whitman because of the shared images and experiences in New York City.

Supporting Quotes:

  • “It avails not, time nor place-distance avails not./ I am with you, you men and women of a generation, or ever so many generations hence” (section 3)
  • “Which fuses me into you now, and pours my meaning into you?” (section 8 )
  • “Thrive, cities- bring your freight bring your shows, ample and sufficient rivers,/ Expand, being than which none else is perhaps more spiritual,/ Keep you places, objects than which none else is more lasting” (section 9)
  • “These and all else were the same to me as they are to you,/ I loved well those cities, I loved well the stately and rapid river,/…Others the same – others who look back on me because I look’d forward to them” (section 4)
  • “What is it then between us?” (section 5)
  • “I too lived, Brooklyn of ample hills was mine,/ I too walk’d the streets of Manhattan Island, and bathed in the/ waters around it” (section 5)


Discovery: People choose particular forms of transportation because of the impression of the city that it makes on the individual’s sense of self. Allows us to understand Gopnik’s psychology better because we make similar choices in our own lives.

Supporting Quotes:

  • “If you had asked me why I avoided the bus, I suppose I would have said that the bus was for old people – or that taking the bus was one step short of not actually living in New York at all” (89)
  • “structures of delusional domesticity” (92)
  • “the bus feels safe (91)

Conclusion: Does the motif contribute to our enjoyment or understanding of them?

-The motif definitely enhances the enjoyment and understanding of each of the three texts to New Yorkers, or anyone who has ever visited New York. However, because the reader’s understanding  of the motif is dependent on their own experiences in the city, it limits the appreciation of people who are not very familiar with New York. Therefore, the more familiar the reader is with the city, the better they will understand and the more they will enjoy the three texts.

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