O Captain! My Captain! Extended Metaphor Analysis

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Oh Captain! My Captain! Extended Metaphor

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Activity Overview


This activity allows students to break down the various components of the extended metaphor in ”O Captain! My Captain!”. The poem cannot be fully understood unless students are aware of the historical background represented by the captain, his ship, and their fates. As students read through stanza by stanza, they will need to identify the figurative meanings behind Whitman’s word choices. Students should be able to cite a line from the poem and understand its literal meaning (as it pertains to the captain and his ship) and its figurative meaning (as it pertains to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War). With this storyboard, students can demonstrate a solid understanding of the text and its metaphorical significance, which will provide a foundation for deeper analysis of the poem.

O Captain! My Captain! Extended Metaphor

TextMetaphorical Meaning
  • “Captain”
The captain is a metaphor for Abraham Lincoln, president of the United States from 1861-1865. Lincoln was like a captain because he was the leader of the country in the same way that a captain leads his crew. Significantly, Whitman always capitalizes this word, indicating that it refers to a specific captain and one who is highly respected.
  • “Ship”
  • “vessel”
  • “steady keel”
The ship refers to the nation, or the United States. The term "ship of state" is often used to refer to a nation's government.
  • “Weather’d every rack”
  • “fearful trip”
The rack, or storm, signifies the Civil War between the Union and Confederacy which threatened to destroy the United States and tear it in two. "Weathering" the storm means that the United States has survived despite the war, or “fearful trip”.
  • “Prize we sought is won”
  • “port is near”
  • “anchor’d safe and sound”
  • “its voyage closed and done”
All of these lines refer to the Union’s victory. The Confederacy surrendered on April 9, 1865. This meant that the southern states would remain in the union and the United States would continue to exist as a nation.
  • “On the deck my captain lies/ Fallen cold and dead”
  • “bleeding drops of red”
The captain's death refers to the assassination of Lincoln by John Wilkes Booth on April 15, 1865. He was shot while at the theater and died a few hours later.


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