Chicago Summary and Analysis by Carl Sandburg: 2022

Carl Sandburg- Carl Sandburg was an American poet born in Galesburg, Illinois to Swedish immigrant parents in 1878. The family was very poor and Carl, along with them, worked odd jobs in his teenage years. Later in school, his writing was appreciated and published by a supportive professor, Philip Green Wright. Though he doesn’t possess a diploma, he has degrees from Lombard, Knox College and Northwestern University. He met his wife Lillian while working as an advertising writer and reporter in Milwaukee. He finally moved to Chicago and was greatly involved in many publications of his poetry, including a study of Abraham Lincoln, for which he was awarded a Pulitzer Prize.
Chicago- “Chicago” by Carl Sandburg is a tribute to the renowned city of the USA. The city is named a lot of things from “Hog Butcher” to “Tool Maker” and is described as being multi-faceted and tough. It provides enough shelter to people coming from all backgrounds and ultimately moulds itself with its thriving population. Chicago is a marvel to live in and watch, and the poet places the city at a higher position than all the other places he has seen. Many of the elements in this place and the lifestyle of the people living in it are mentioned extensively, and even the brutalities existing are glorified to add to the magnificence that is Chicago.

Setting of Chicago-

The poem is set in the streets of early 20th century Chicago and describes extensively the lifestyle of the people who live here. They range from menial labourers to powerful men to petty criminals in the windy and pompous city of Chicago. The poet personifies the city in a lot of ways, and by the end of it, it seems less like a city and more like a merry man, toiling around the place. The city is described physically as an infrastructural place as well as an actual person in that era. This is probably to make it more relatable to several generations of audience, even those who are unaware of the circumstances in Chicago or USA as a whole during the 20th century.

Poetic Devices in Chicago-

The whole poem “Chicago” is unique in its framework which manages to portray the city of Chicago as a person living in those conditions as well as the city itself.
Extended Metaphor – The writer compares the city to the things people do – Hog Butcher for the world/Tool Maker, Stacker of Wheat
Personification – Chicago “brawling” or having “big shoulders”
Simile – “Fierce as a dog with tongue/Lapping for action”, “cunning as a/Savage pitted against the/Wilderness”
Imagery – “dusty mouth”, “white teeth”


The poem does not possess a definite rhyme scheme.

Summary of Chicago-

The poem begins with different roles of an ordinary human being in the city of Chicago, from “Hog Butcher” to a “Stacker of Wheat”. It then proceeds to describe how the city has seen women luring men, men killing mankind and those suffering from hunger, yet still remains beautiful with its jolly nature, singing and merry-making people labouring over their several jobs. The city is fierce and builds & rebuilds under rough circumstances and yet manages to come out proud as the “Hog Butcher” and the “Stacker of Wheat”.
“Chicago” led to Carl Sandburg’s literary rise and its conventional poetic versification and faith in the American lifestyle later became Sandburg’s characteristic poetry features. The opening verse is a brutal imagery of the different roles people have in the city. Chicago is personified a ‘Hog Butcher’ with its ‘big shoulders’. The following lines summarise the evils and instances of injustice in the city, coupled with a vibrant air despite these. Chicago is upheld as a rightly proud and strong city, comparing it to the bravery of a fighter dog. The poet is clearly in love with the city’s working class and its colourful atmosphere where people make the most of what they have and come across as brave prize-fighters even with its jobs including prostitution and children starving on the streets. The poem does not refer to the aristocratic class in Chicago which is a beautiful symbol of glorifying the hard workers and the survivors.

Critical Analysis of Chicago-

The poem “Chicago” mentions its theme in the very title, introducing the readers to an unique description of the city. The poem is written in a personal voice or first person, to help connect the readers to the text. It begins with a list of tumultuous occupations in the working class of Chicago. This first section is abrupt and brings the reader to the kinds of work of the early 20th century America. The second section moves on to the cruel instances in the city and the poet acknowledges them, with the starving population and those ruthless enough to fight one another. The poet, however, also accepts these failures and goes on to the positive side of the city despite these shortcomings. This signifies the optimistic outlook of the poet towards the city.
This outlook makes him mention several positive attributes of the city, including its resilience, bravery, pride and hard working people. The poem is a clear display of how close Chicago is to the poet and the extent to which he can go, in appreciating it. The usage of the middle and lower class people of Chicago in the poem also reflects the relation the poet has tried to make the audience develop with the city instead of using the elite population. Chicago is so far a tribute to the city and Sandburg goes so far as regarding Chicago as a person, who influences as well as is influenced by all that goes on within and inside it.

Central Idea of Chicago-

The theme of the poem is the emotional connection that the poet shares with his observation and experience in Chicago and all that the city contains. Chicago is a brave and proud city with hard working labourers who manage to see the light of the day and find the good in it even while toiling for hours and living amidst pitiful and violent situations.

Tone of Chicago-

The poem moves in a very personal and emotional tone to describe the way the poet perceives the city of Chicago. He does not use the rich to define the city as magnificent and glamorous, instead he glorified the working class in their dire circumstances, still looking forward to life. The tone of the poem is a sentimental one describing Chicago as a brave, fine city of pride and valour.
Conclusion- The poem “Chicago” is a ‘tribute’ to the city of the same name that describes it as being made of the people who work hard all day and literally “make it”. The poet calls Chicago a brave and proud city despite all its shortcomings. He lays down the moral of living in how one should not let the dark backdrop affect our attitude to our present lives.

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