Transcendentalism: the Balloon Containing Anti-Transcendentalism

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Transcendentalism: the Balloon Containing Anti-Transcendentalism

Post  rosAA on Thu May 21, 2009 2:26 am

Firstly, oh my good lord Ms. Kay I'm so, so, so sorry for posting this piece of our school homework assignments so late. I'm really grateful that you understand that it's due to the stupid technological problems I had of late [I even went ahead and pulled apart the computer and checked through all connections] So I just went ahead and copied and pasted what I had on microsoft word previously for this assignment.

Within Melville’s book, Moby Dick, I think that the key transcendentalist theme is the search for answers, the search for truth conducted by Captain Ahab. I mean, okay, the obvious one could be without saying the quest Captain Ahab conducts with the strength and determination to do what the other characters in the book label as impossible – to capture Moby Dick the white whale. Captain Ahab seems to be pushing his potential here to fight against what most people have a general opinion on. However, there seems to be something deeper implied into this quest that Ahab takes. In the very beginning before Ahab turns to his crew members and tells them of this quest that everyone must help to fulfill, he is described as a man who seems to be very confused, constantly walking around places aimlessly. In some point of view, he can be seen as a man who is searching for something within himself but can’t label the what. Instead, Ahab puts this quest and search out into the external world – to capture the white whale – in search for the answers to the questions he has within him. This relates to the idea of how thoughts create reality. He is creating external reality by setting up a hunt for an animal through the mental search through internal disorderliness.

Through the descriptions of the trip during the search of the white whale, the sea and the weather is described to be violent and turbulent. Wouldn’t this be showing the actual inner state of Ahab, who may be insane? Isn’t this also another factor of what happens when thoughts create reality? This never-ending quest within Ahab to figure out the truth about himself by killing the white whale is a transcendentalist idea as Ahab continuously pushes his potential to find his own answers.

However, towards the end, a bunch of Anti-transcendentalism comes in. First, the prophecy made about Ahab continuously becomes true, and even the part about how Ahab dies comes true in real life as well. Does this mean that there is actually a specific framework in which humans can work in but cannot push the actual boundaries of this framework? Ahab was mentioned within the prophecy that he will die as lynched. However, from the ending of the story, we find out how Ahab may not have been specifically lynched yet he still died of suffocation from a rope around his neck. This shows how there is room for change, yet what was originally planned has to come true. It’s like a road that only goes on forward and only segments of the road are very narrow whereas the gaping parts in the middle are broad. So there is room for something else every once in a while but no matter what it is necessary to come back and squeeze through the narrow, planned-out road. One could say this is the concept of fate as well, but I won’t discuss too much on that.

Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter also has Transcendentalist themes. The usage of nature and how it is the symbol and presents a sense of tranquility and difference from the rest of the conformed society is a transcendentalist idea. The hope that Hester has within herself to break away from society’s conformed ideas and create realities for herself is another transcendentalist idea. Even Dimmesdale, who is a man constantly attacked by his own sense of guilt and shame finally lets go and confesses in front of everyone. This, in intention-wise, is also another transcendentalist idea. However, the fact that Dimmesdale dies and that Hester never gets the chance to become happy with Dimmesdale is an anti-transcendentalist idea that identifies Hawthorne as an anti-transcendentalist.

Putting these two anti-transcendentalist works together, there seems to be general transcendentalist ideas within the anti-transcendentalist works. As we have often emphasized during class the subjectivity of the writers of fiction, the tones of the literary work also seems to help us readers infer what kind of attitudes these anti-transcendentalists had towards transcendentalism. Emerson and Thoreau seem to tell us that the amount of unlimited potential within us can spread out so much, so greatly, and so powerfully that no one will be able to reach an ending point. Melville and Hawthorne, however, seem to indicate that there are actually limits to this potential. In fact, unlimited potential becomes limited potential because of human faults, such as death (is this a fault?) and greed, etc. These human faults bring the humans back to earth and bring upon bigger realities. Thus, the anti-transcendentalists are transcendentalists, yet believe in the belief of limit to this unlimited potential within all humans. The scornful and cynical attitude given by Melville and Hawthorne is sort of implied within the tone of the story and how the plot develops – is it?

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