Commentary

Selected Criticism

Title:
"Angel of Tears, The" (1842)
Author:
McGuire, Patrick
Print source:
J.R. LeMaster and Donald D. Kummings, eds., Walt Whitman: An Encyclopedia (New York: Garland Publishing, 1998), reproduced by permission.

This short story appeared first in United States Magazine and Democratic Review in September 1842. Concerning publication and revisions, see Thomas L. Brasher's edition of The Early Poems and the Fiction.

As a story, "The Angel of Tears" is negligible. A fratricide remembers happier times with his brother and is overcome with repentance. God sends Alza, the angel of tears, to the criminal's bedside in prison to soothe the murderer's sleep. The theme of brothers at odds with each other connects "Angel of Tears" to "Wild Frank's Return" (1841) and "Bervance: or, Father and Son" (1841). But the theme is made little of here. When the fratricide remembers pleasant childhood moments with his brother, repentance follows, but no explanation for enmity is given. Only in "Angel of Tears," moreover, has the enmity between brothers led to murder. Asselineau detects in this story the influence of Poe.

Also of interest in this story is Whitman's propensity for capitalized epithets. God, for example, is the Unfathomable, the Master of the Great Laws. Heaven is the Pure Country. God's plan for reckoning good and evil is in the Shrouded Volume (120–122).

Whitman's sympathy for the outcast is prominent. He seems to argue that personal judgment of criminals is inappropriate since their evil acts are as likely the outcome of forces in childhood as are the good acts of people who are not criminals. There is also an implicit criticism, in a veiled reference, to capital punishment, but not as direct or emphatic as Whitman's criticism in other tales, most notably in "Death in the School-Room (a Fact)" (1841).

Bibliography

Asselineau, Roger. The Evolution of Walt Whitman: The Creation of a Personality. Trans. Richard P. Adams and Roger Asselineau. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard UP, 1960.

Whitman, Walt. The Early Poems and the Fiction. Ed. Thomas L. Brasher. New York: New York UP, 1963.


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