In some other early notebooks kept by Whitman, we can see the origins of other passages in "The Sleepers." One of the most interesting is the evolution of the image of the whale that comes to be associated with the angry slave. In one notebook, Whitman muses on the issues of race and class, of wealth and slavery. His rambling thoughts begin to settle around the idea of owning oneself, the right of complete self-possession:

If every man and woman riding in this huge huge round car that whirls us through the universe, be not touched to the vitals, by the question whether another of the passengers shall be made a slave, tell me O learned lawyer or professor--tell me what they are interested in? --What does touch them?--What comes home to a man, if the principle the right to himself does not?--Is there in the wide world any thing, that so evenly and so universally bears upon every individual of our race, in all ages, in/tongues and colors and climates, and conditions.--Is there any thing that it stands us in hand--all of us without exception, to keep the rats and moths so carefully away from, as this--the warrantee deed, the original charter of the very feet that bear us up.

Soon, Whitman is musing about the ways that all humans are slaves to something: "I have heard of people who suggest as a choker upon the right of freedom that all men are more or less slaves--some to gain, some to fashion, others to priests and superstition." Whitman has little patience with the clever and rational arguments against slavery; he says the "strong and solid arguments . . . must be now left aside":

We will stand face to face with the / chief of the supreme bench. We will speak with the soul. The learned think the unlearned an inferior race.--The merchant thinks his bookkeepers and clerks sundry degrees below him; they in turn think the porter and carmen common; and they the laborer that brings in coal, and the stevedores that haul the great burdens with them. / But this is an inferior race.--Well who shall be the judge of inferior and superior races.--The class of dainty gentlemen think that all servants and laboring people are inferior.--In all lands, the select few who live and dress richly, make a mean estimate of the body of the people.--

If it be justifiable to take away liberty for inferiority--then it is just to take away money or goods, to commit rapes, / to seize on any thing you will, for the same reason.--Is it enough answer to the crime of stealing a watch, that you stole it from an ignorant nigger, who don't know the odds between an adverb and three times twelve?--If you spend your violent lust on a woman, by terror and violence, will it receipt the bill when you endorse it, nothing but a mulatto wench?--/ But as great as any worldly wealth to a man,--or womanhood to a woman,--greater than these, I think, is the right of liberty, to any and to all men and women.-- It is logical to take the life or property of some poor fellow for his inferiority or color, as it is to take his personal liberty.-- / Beware the flukes of the whale. He is slow and sleepy--but when he moves, his lightest touch is death. I think he already feels the lance, for he moves a little restlessly. You are great sportsmen, no doubt What! That black and huge lethargic mass, my sportsmen, dull and sleepy as it seems, has holds the lightning and the belts taps of thunder.--He is slow--O, long and long and slow and slow--but when he does move, his lightest touch is death. / [Entire passage crossed out]

The flukes of a whale they are as quick as light

The Poet
He has a charm that makes fluid every thing in the universe however distant or however dense, and so he inhales it as a breath, and it is all good air arterializes? Vitalizes the blood that goes squirting through his heart.-- /" [DBN, 760-763].

In this notebook, we see the origins of the concluding image in the Lucifer passage, the haunting passage of the whale, here emphasized as "black" and emerging, as did the Lucifer section, out of Whitman's musings about race and class and gender, all issues that he addresses subtly but effectively in "The Sleepers." The whale appears first in Whitman's early notebook, where he writes those earliest passages about becoming a "Curse." Whitman has been writing in the notebook about how "The soul or spirit transmutes itself into all matter," and how a person's soul must cast itself "into rocks, and live the life of a rock--into the sea, and can feel itself the sea," and how a man "must himself be whirling and speeding through space like the planet Mercury--he must be driving like a cloud--he must shine like the sun-- . . . he would rumble and crash like the thunder in the sky--he would spring like a cat on his prey--he would splash like a whale in the". Here the thought simply stops, as if Whitman had written himself to an image he now would want to explore in more depth. It arrives after a series of images of violent forces, and the whale would now begin to become for him a real force not only of nature but of man's soul, especially a soul that has, as he wrote in the notebook above, had its liberty stripped from it by those who judged this soul inferior. Nothing produces a greater and more forceful tap of death than a soul denied.