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"Legend of Life and Love, A" (1842)

This short story initially appeared in United States Magazine and Democratic Review, July 1842. For publication history and revisions, see Brasher's edition of The Early Poems and the Fiction.

There is a simple message to this story of two brothers, orphans whose last remaining relative, a grandfather, gives them advice on his deathbed. Basically the advice is a statement of pessimism about human beings: avoid love, avoid trust, avoid getting involved. The young men go their own ways. One brother, Mark, follows the advice to the letter; the other, Nathan, does not. After seventy years they meet each other and tell their stories. Hearing of Nathan's wife, children, and grandchildren, Mark realizes, in Nathan's words, "the world has misery—but it is a pleasant world still" (Whitman 119).

Allen sees the grandfather in this story as a variation on the cruel father theme that plays through several of Whitman's short stories. Related to this theme is another motif that figures in much of Whitman's fiction: the separation of brothers. Both themes, for example, appear in "Wild Frank's Return" (1841) and "Bervance: or, Father and Son" (1841).


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

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

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