This entry was published due to the academical purposes
Popular Philosophies around the 19th Century in American Literature
Transcendent, "that, which goes beyond" (transcends) any possible knowledge of a human being. Emerson defines in his essay “The Transcendentalist”, ” The extraordinary profoundness and precision of that man’s thinking have given vogue to his nomenclature, in Europe and American to that extent, that whatever belongs to the class of intuitive thought, is popularly called at the present day Transcendental.” Emerson gives a credit in his essay to a philosophy Immanuel Kant for defining the transcendentalism as the power of our mind which constitutes objects for us to experience the objects in a first place. This philosophy says that there is nothing which just merely happened. All things were actually happened because our mind constitutes things to be happened. Refers to what Kant says, that is the power of “intuitions of mind” that human knows something intuitively so that everything which have not been happened yet does not mean they are just totally unknown at all. Those are what Emerson takes as the most American transcendentalist champion in the 19th century, both in his essays “The Transcendentalist” and “Nature”, he speaks his way of thinking about the transcendentalism. Transcendentalist for Emerson is the optimistic and independence one, because the transcendentalist need to build and independent though to constitute things to be happened. They are also the optimistic because they believe that they will find everything they are seeking for. Their mind of intuition hold a very great power of controlling their self and their surroundings which send a suggestion to those things to make reality of something they think is needed to be true. As Emerson says in his “Nature” (his though as a transcendentalist), “Undoubtedly we have no questions to ask which are unanswerable. We must trust the perfection of the creation so far as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy. Every man’s condition is a solution in hieroglyphic to those inquiries he would put. He acts as life, before he apprehends it as truth. In like manner, nature is already, in its forms and tendencies, describing its own design. “ The transcendentalist is able to see symbols in nature as their power of intuition and translate it through the mind to get a picture of a fact they can read.
These power of intuition for Emerson has influenced the part of history of America, “yet the tendency to respect the intuitions, and to give them, at least in our creed, all authority over our experience, has deeply colored the conversation and poetry of the present day; and the history of genius and of religion in these times, though impure, and as yet not incarnated in any powerful individual, will be the history of this tendency.” It may reflect that Emerson states the intuition of mind which comes from the past is the mind that constitutes the present condition of America.
Another transcendentalist, Henry David Thoreau, with his Resistance to Civil Governments or also known as Civil disobedience, spread the anarchism through the essay. Anarchism itself means there is no rule, no structure of a government, and particularly there is no law behind it. Thoreau states that law is just a barrier for a man, that man will never be free because they can do what they think right or wrong. If a man supposed to obey the rule of his government in all the way they live there will be no higher price for every human. He adds, “Law never made men a whit more just; and, by means of their respect for it, even the well-disposed are daily made the agents of injustice.” Thoreau opposes the governmental part which is the law, because he thinks that government is better to not govern at all to erase the injustice. He says that the government is not only a little corrupt but instead of the agent of the corruption. Because of this, it is "not too soon for honest men to rebel and revolutionize." The transcendentalism of Thoreau and other transcendentalists (Emerson, Whitman) have influenced the current literature works of America. There is no specific explanation about the transcendentalism. It is unlimited to the literature or any other things. Transcendentalists often rebel and think with a very different way which makes new ways of writing. In “The United States of Poetry” we can see the strong figure and character of every poets. They do poetry just like an expression about what they think they want to say. Many of them are the protest about the injustice in America; here is where transcendentalism reflected, as the strong, rebel, independence, the profile of an American.
Whitman and Dickinson’s poems are pretty different with each other. Whitman’s a long, and rambling while Dickinson’s short and solid give a very deep different meaning to the readers though both of theirs just speak about the same things like death, life, nature, and God. The way it was told differently reflects their own philosophy. Whitman as the transcendentalist, shows his mind power over his poet “Song of Myself”. It feels stronger, lighter, and bolder. The transcendentalism clearly stated through lines of Whitman’s:
“I celebrate myself, and sing myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.“
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.“
The first line strongly shows the way he thinks as the transcendentalist. His mind control his self and the nature around him. It is powerful and independence. Whitman’s poet is far away optimistically seen than what Dickinson has. Dickinson’s lines feel darker and more abstract. The contrast between them show the world of Whitman and Dickinson was pretty different. Dickinson’s seems to welcome death, and shows particularly the figure of woman based on her. Her “Because I could not stop for death” reveals a strong emotion which obviously dark and her interest of the issue of immortality:
“Because I could not stop for Death-
He kindly stopped for me-
The Carriage held but just Ourselves-
The metaphors and personifications are both used in both of their poems. What makes them so different is, Whitman use his works as the celebration of American life while Dickinson use hers as the place for dealing with death and dying expression.
The past conditions of an author give a very great impact to his works, example is The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams. The life background of Williams, his dark experience in the past reflected in his work of drama. In The Glass Menagerie, there is a father who abandoned his family for such a long time that cause the family feels so much dissatisfaction about life. The absence figure of the father in this story is the reflection of a reality of author’s past time. William’s father was the abusive one who spent most of his time away from home. In his child time William suffered from the illness of diphtheria that cause her father hate his physical condition. That is why William’s The Glass Menagerie often called as his “Memory Play” because it identifies many signs of dysfunctional family as there is a lost figure of father, the unfair and unhappy life of a dysfunctional family. The past of Williams effects his works most of the time. It is a place for him to express an emotional feeling about his tortured life.
The absence figure of father in The Glass Menagerie cause the conflicts over family’s life. The absence of a father is used as a symbol of an “escaping”. It makes the son in a family (Tom Wingfield) want to escape from home in night time spending his hours in movie because his desperation of hating his lost fathers. He said that he is a “bastard son of a bastard”. Mr. Wingfield play a very important role in the story because he is used as a symbol that haunts the family every time. The pictures of him which are hung on every place in the house show that point. Amanda (the wife) often and always remember his husband that never comes back and it gives negative effect to the family, because the reminding memory of a figure of father will build the desperation more and more. It shows how crucial the father figure is in the family even when he is gone and not physically presented in story.
We find these words similarly in every title of autobiographical writings from Equiano, Rowlandson, Douglass, Apess, and Jacobs, the three words are “Written by himself”. Those words are used to declare that Americans who are not European has the power to write something and speak up through their own voices.
“ I have said that the soul is not more than the body, | And I have said that the body is not more than the soul, | And nothing, not God, is greater to one than ones self is”, comes from William Whitman’s poem, Song of Myself. It is similar with Emerson’s philosophy of self through his essay Self-Resistance, the point is mind is the greatest thing, even Emerson says that a men who believes his own thought is a genius one, "To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius."
I was asked to fulfill the requirements to write an essay and answer some questions due to final exam of my intersession study. Feel free to give me your responses, thank you! :)