Selected Criticism

"Wild Frank's Return" (1841)
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 in November 1841 in United States Magazine and Democratic Review. For publication history and revisions, see Brasher's edition of The Early Poems and the Fiction.

This story is Whitman's first use of the theme of two brothers going separate ways. In a dispute between Richard and Wild Frank, the father sides with the older. The second son, Wild Frank, leaves home. After two years of a dissolute life at sea, he reconciles with his brother and begins his journey home on a favored horse, Black Nell. The journey is tiring, so Frank stops to give himself and the horse a little rest. He ties the horse to his wrist and falls asleep. So deep is his sleep that an ensuing storm cannot wake him, but the horse bolts and drags him the several miles home, where his family awaits his return. His mother, whose favorite he was, faints in a deadly swoon.

Reynolds, seeing in the story psychological parallels to its author, asks if Whitman, as prodigal son, projected this story to shock his mother. Kaplan sees it as Whitman's revenge against his own family, but he notes some hidden sexual symbols, such as Black Nell, and a correspondence between an umbilical cord and the cord around Frank's wrist, which correspondence Callow also sees. Allen sees this story, along with "Bervance: or, Father and Son" (1841), as evidence of Whitman's obsession with cruel fathers.


Allen, Gay Wilson. The Solitary Singer: A Critical Biography of Walt Whitman. 1955. Rev. ed. 1967. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1985.

Callow, Philip. From Noon to Starry Night: A Life of Walt Whitman. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 1992.

Kaplan, Justin. Walt Whitman: A Life. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1980.

Reynolds, David S. Walt Whitman's America: A Cultural Biography. New York: Knopf, 1995.

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


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