Transcendentalism vs. Anti-Transcendentalism

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Transcendentalism vs. Anti-Transcendentalism

Post  Angel on Wed May 13, 2009 12:08 am

The workings of the mind and of the inner spirit and being are both explored thoroughly in the works of the two Anti-Transcendentalists. In the excerpt from Moby Dick, Herman Melville delves forcibly into the culmination of the narrative, revealing to us the many intricate natures of his characters – above all capturing the image of the chilling Captain Ahab, whose odd advances and decisions leave us in a search for his true identity. Ahab’s acts result from the entrapment of his soul, his being, by the powerful forces of his mind, a terrible agent that propels his want to sacrifice for the good of his ambition – the killing of Moby Dick. Ahab is not investigating and beholding his own individuality with a loving eye; rather, he has chosen a different path and quest: the endless hunt for the whale. The significance and presence of the inner being is seemingly diminished here; although Ahab’s tremendous spirit and true nature is exhibited in the story, it is nevertheless obstructed by the ruthless mind.

The chase takes place out on the open sea, a realm of nature and, in this narrative, a domain of confinement and consistency. The members onboard the whaling ship evidently represent a hierarchy of some sort, a society of routine and, to the seamen, normality. All normality is terminated, however, when Ahab reveals his true intentions. This results in the seamen changing their course of action, of hope, and of desire; this ultimately demonstrates the nonconformity of the seamen and their willingness to partake in the victory against the whale.

Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter presents nature as a miraculous habitat that teems with the life and energy of individuality, freedom, nonconformity, and connectivity. In nature, Hester is able to be at one with and within herself, an establishment of peace and momentary serenity that she would otherwise not attain in her puritan society. It is there that she is freed and unburdened by the woes of humanity; it is in nature that she is able to explore her individuality. Unlike Dimmesdale – whose strong ego-mind destructs and dominates his being, thus disabling its truest form – Hester is strong-willed and determined, determined to live a life of independence and nonconformity.

Emerson and Thoreau are truly two of the foremost pioneers of Transcendentalism and of the changing thoughts that spurred a new growth during their time. Their explorations of the surrounding environment – most commonly of nature – are composed of recordings, explanations, developments of theories, and thoughts of a higher meaning in life that is associated with the Universal Being, the interconnected essence that resides in everybody. The works of the Transcendentalists are full of life and optimism, qualities that are found to be dominant in the literary pieces of most Transcendentalists. The Anti-Transcendentalists, however, capture the essence of their belief by displaying to us the range of boundaries and restrictions that act as opposing forces against our attempts at achieving or succeeding. In Moby Dick, Captain Ahab confronts his limitations when chasing the whale; so does Hester in The Scarlet Letter as she struggles against the rules of society and its collective prejudices against the unordinary or the extraordinary. The texts of the Anti-Transcendentalists reflect characters’ harsh struggles against the regulations of society, which most often result in the embitterment of these characters and eventually the finding of solace and harmony within the realms of nature, along with the pursuit of something that had always been sought – for Hester, a life of individuality and freedom from the penetrations of the rigid society; for Ahab, the domination of and triumph over the whale.

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