Exploring Chicago: Literary Analysis of Sandburg's "Chicago"

Categories: Chicago


Carl Sandburg's poem "Chicago" serves as an ode to his beloved city, employing literary devices such as personification, diction, and imagery to express his deep love and pride for the vibrant metropolis. This analysis delves into the intricacies of Sandburg's craft, unraveling the layers of meaning embedded in the poem's verses.

The Power of Personification in Chicago's Identity

The opening stanza of "Chicago" resonates with a powerful portrayal of the city's identity through personification. Sandburg attributes dynamic roles to Chicago, declaring it as the "HOG Butcher for the World, / Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat, / Player with Railroads and the Nation's Freight Handler; / Stormy, husky, brawling, / City of the Big Shoulders" (1-5).

The deliberate choice of personification imbues Chicago with a sense of agency, depicting it not merely as a geographical location but as an active force in shaping the nation's destiny. The metaphor of "City of the Big Shoulders" evokes an image of strength and responsibility, highlighting Chicago's pivotal role in the economic and industrial landscape of the United States.

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This personification serves a dual purpose, emphasizing Chicago's significance while also compelling the reader to acknowledge its influence on a national scale. By attributing human qualities to the city, Sandburg elevates Chicago to a position of prominence, reinforcing the idea that it is not just a place on the map but a vital contributor to the collective identity of the nation.

The Emotional Resonance of Diction

The second stanza of "Chicago" introduces another layer of emotional resonance through Sandburg's careful selection of diction.

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He writes, "They tell me you are wicked.../And they tell me you are crooked.../And they tell me you are brutal" (6-8). In these lines, the words "wicked," "crooked," and "brutal" carry a weight of emotion that transcends mere descriptions. Sandburg deliberately opts for emotionally charged language, choosing words that evoke a visceral response from the reader.

The decision to use such potent diction is a deliberate strategy to foster a deeper connection between the reader and the poem. Words like "brutal" could easily be substituted with a milder term like "harsh," but Sandburg's intent is to elicit a stronger emotional response. This deliberate choice underscores the poet's commitment to conveying not just the external perception of Chicago but the profound emotional bond he shares with his city.

Imagery: Unveiling Chicago's Grit and Resilience

Furthermore, Sandburg employs vivid imagery to capture the essence of Chicago, painting a picture that extends beyond the surface impressions. In the lines "Under the smoke, dust all over his mouth, laughing with / white teeth" (20), the poet creates a powerful image of resilience amidst adversity. The imagery of someone, perhaps a resident of Chicago, covered in smoke and dust, yet laughing with "white teeth," conveys a narrative of endurance and tenacity.

This image serves as a testament to the hardships faced by the city, symbolic of its industrial toil and challenges, yet the laughter and the gleaming "white teeth" suggest an underlying spirit that remains untarnished. Sandburg masterfully uses imagery to convey a message of hope and pride, portraying Chicago as a city that thrives even in the face of adversity.


In conclusion, Carl Sandburg's "Chicago" transcends the boundaries of a mere poem; it is a multifaceted tribute to the city he holds dear. Through the strategic use of personification, emotionally charged diction, and vivid imagery, Sandburg crafts a literary masterpiece that encapsulates the spirit, strength, and identity of Chicago. The poem not only serves as an artistic expression but also as a profound declaration of love and pride for a city that stands as a symbol of resilience and vitality.

Updated: Nov 30, 2023
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Exploring Chicago: Literary Analysis of Sandburg's "Chicago". (2016, Jul 21). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/chicago-by-carl-sandburg-essay

Exploring Chicago: Literary Analysis of Sandburg's "Chicago" essay
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