Summary and Analysis: Children of Adam Introduction


A group of fifteen poems in the 1860 version of Leaves of Grass was entitled Enfans d'Adam. In 1867, these poems, after a few changes, were retitled Children of Adam. In the 1892 edition, the group consists of sixteen poems.

The major themes of Children of Adam are procreation and physical love between man and woman. The themes are dealt with through imagery rich in Christian tradition. Whitman uses many Christian concepts in his own unique way to express his individual precepts for mankind.

Fundamental to Christian belief is the story of the Fall of Man, interpreted either literally or symbolically. Adam and Eve, falling prey to Satan's temptation, disobeyed the divine command and ate the forbidden fruit of knowledge. This act of disobedience resulted in Original Sin, the inheritance of humanity. Man is therefore a born sinner, and his only hope of salvation lies in the grace of God, attained through Jesus Christ.

Whitman reverses this traditional Christian tenet. He asserts that it is not Adam but Adam's children who have really lost the Garden of Eden. Adam's children can regain this lost paradise not by denying the flesh, which had been a Puritan belief, but by accepting it. Man will then be reborn through this glorification of his body, for the human body is as sacred as the spirit. Thus, man is not born debased as a result of Original Sin. He should be proud of his heritage and of the "Adamic" in him.

The theme of procreation in these poems was revolutionary at the time of their first publication. Whitman thinks that procreation is a creative act, an act of spiritual regeneration. Man finds fulfillment in sex and should thus rejoice in it, for it is only through physical love that man can take his place in the cycle of life. And it is only through spiritual regeneration that man can complete his quest — and the full, uninhibited experience of sex is seen as the first step to spiritual regeneration.