English 11 Forum

Transcendentalism or nah?

We've looked at the Romantics' influence on Transcendentalism, worked on defining this slippery concept of "Transcendentalism" itself, read some of Emerson and Thoreau, and looked at two filmic examples of Transcendentalism. We also discussed how, as our nation started to form its identity, the Transcendentalists came to represent one strand, standing in opposition to the tradition and authority of the Puritans.

So what do you think? As we prepare to compose an end-of-quarter answer to the our guiding question "What is America(n)?," what do you think of the Transcendentalist answer to that question? And do use your historical perspective--over 150 years later, has this Transcendentalist strand been good for America? Bad? Both?

In your response, first define just what you think that Transcendentalist answer is, and then discuss your attitude toward that answer. You should make specific references to the works we studied (this is where your notes and the TodaysMeet backchannel should be useful).

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  • Transcendentalism to me is going above and beyond ‘normal’ beliefs. With the two movies we watched, there was some really outside-the-box ideas according to their families beliefs. In the Dead Poet’s Society, Neil just wanted to be apart of the play. His father thought that was absolutely outrageous. Neil did it anyway, but look how far his father’s attitude really got him. He lost his son, but I think he really only cared about how much money he was losing after putting Neil through private schooling. Neil’s father’s mindset was only on the success of him and his family members. In ‘Into The Wild’, Chris just wanted to go do his own thing, rather than following in his father’s footsteps- or maybe I should say dream footsteps. Chris’ father wanted Chris to do something with his life and go off into a high paying career. Chris had far different things in mind.

    Transcendentalism has been both good and bad for America. The good being that more people are apt to become apart of the individualistic cultures rather than collectivistic. The transcendentalism idea brings out Americans individuality. The bad being the more outbreaks of bad individualistic ideas. This being gangs, mobs, you know; that kind of ‘stuff.’ Transcendentalism has formed an entirely different strand of today’s America. Today we are more individualized and do more things for ourselves. America’s citizens today can decide what they are going to do with their life and go pursue their dreams. Money isn’t an issue today because we’re all so broke (debt), it honestly doesn’t matter anymore. Transcendentalism in America all started out with our founding fathers. Of course, we kind of went off of what England had done with their government; but we went our own direction with it. There was Abraham Lincoln who tried for Civil Rights and never let anyone live down that the Civil War had a much larger meaning. We have Harriet Tubman, who tried to form somewhat of a civil rights act. She saw a change she wanted, so she drove to help out the less fortunate and escape them from slavery. We have had many transcendentalists throughout the history of America and all of them have done exceptional things for our country.

    To me, being a transcendentalist would be very hard. I am one of those people who usually follow the rule book, but not always. Transcendentalists are the pope who go out and strive for what they want. They work their butts off for it and they make a change. After they have made a difference, whether it be in their life or someone else's, they know they can go any time then. Usually when they go, they go out with a bang as well. Transcendentalism has a lot of good and bad aspects, but it is neither in my mind. Transcendentalism is an over the top thing, but you can either succeed after becoming one or die trying.
  • Transcendentalism was a good thing to have happened to the United States. When we think about nature and purity, hippies and tree-huggers come to mind. And maybe that isn’t a bad thing. Hippies had brought about new ideas and had a deeper understanding of nature than normal people did. They formed protests and rallies in order to express their ideas and disagreements with society at the time. This strand has been good for america because it had brought about awareness to Americans and taught people that there is still nature and natural beauty and that the industrial world isn't all that. And once you think about it, the industrial world is only as good or as important as we make it. Industrialization seems to have distanced humans from nature. We let machines think for us, making our brains less active leaving our minds less to think about.

    Breaking tradition is what has brought humanity all of our most innovative inventions, thoughts, and ideas. Without breaking tradition, making movements towards creating a better world or a better humanity would be a heck of a lot harder to do. The phrase ‘thinking outside of the box’ has never been more true when talking about Transcendentalism. America as a whole are a bunch of transcendentalists because they were rebelling or going against England in order to gain their own freedom, maybe even a sense of spiritual freedom, being able to choose your own way of thinking and religion to follow.

    Do you think Transcendentalism has been a bad strand? No, I mean, we are in fact here today, doing just fine and we definitely are evolving and finding new ways to think every day. We’ve definitely advanced quite a bit from the traditional puritan beliefs. It’s because of our individuality that we think differently and act differently. Because of our differences, change is always happening, from generation to generation, new ideas are built upon older generation’s and disagreements are forever present. Chris disagreed with his parents on how he should live. The hippies disagreed with the normal lifestyle of a person in the 1990’s. The older man disagreed with Chris’ view on life. Neil from Dead Poet’s Society disagreed with his father. Keating disagreed with the traditional way of teaching. Disagreements make up a vast amount of life and somehow always finds a way to make change happen.

    Transcendentalism leaves a lasting impression on peoples lives, for some, its a positive impression, and for others a negative one, but no matter what, it changes people. We not only learn from ourselves, but others. We can learn how to behave as humans and what to take away from experiences in life. Transcendentalism can also teach us to look beyond the simplicity of life, and learn to find the complexity in it. Dig deeper into thoughts, theories, and understandings. Chris and the hippies did this when they spoke of the oversoul and how life was connected. Thoreau did this when he spent his time in isolation out in the woods. He found the beauty of nature that most of us forget to appreciate. Authors do this when they describe the natural world and settings and people and emotions that they try to entail.
  • America is the greatest country in the world. It is the land of opportunity and freedom. It is the definition of what every person dreams for in a country. America is the land where you can do what you want. Most people don’t take full advantage of this though. Some people follow social norms not allowing themselves to fully embrace their freedom.

    A transcendentalist would define America as a country where you can embrace your true freedom. Where you can truly go beyond your senses and is more what you feel inside. America isn’t a place where you just go off what you hear and say it’s place to truly feel what you want. They would also say not everybody capitalizes on this opportunity. Most people say they live in the land of the free but yet they don’t truly embrace that. They don’t truly use their imagination or intuition, instead they use their logic and reasoning. In the movie “Into the Wild” he fully embraces the true freedoms of America and gives up society. The social norms. Where everything is basically forced upon you and there are moral codes. He went out into the wild where he could be himself. Where he could fully use his imagination and intuition. This is where he thought he could finally be himself. The wild is where he felt free. He thinks of America as a land of set standards. You grow up get and education then you get a job and get a family. He didn’t like that, and for that he wanted to escape.

    In the “Dead Poet’s Society” all the students were forced into things. They were forced to go to that school. Most of them had their future decided by their parents. They all had the exact opposite of what America is supposed to be. The land of freedom where you can make decisions for yourself. Where you get to decide what you want to do with your life. In their case they didn’t get that choice. They would’ve defined America as a land of control and set guidelines. Until they got the new teacher who taught them how to think differently. How to think how they want. He taught them there is more to life than what meets the eye. He taught them how to trigger their emotions and do what their heart desires. For instance Neil wanted to be an actor and through the teacher’s help he did it. He ignored the fact his dad was gonna get mad and did what he wanted. He just let go and did what he wanted. Then of course he got in big trouble and his father drove him to the point of suicide.

    I think transcendentalists have it extremely hard. In today’s society are world isn’t set up for free thinkers and people that go against the normal. It’s set up for those people that do what everyone else does. It’s set up for those who go to college and get an education and then go get a job and work 5 days a week and eventually marry and maybe have kids. Also set up where you're supposed to do whatever someone that has more power than you says. In the movie it was their parents. This is proved by the fact that both transcendentalists in the movies we watched ended up dead. One went up against power and thought for himself and was punished and he couldn’t handle it so he took his own life. The other transcendentalist went against norms and abandoned society and went to live in the wild. He wasn’t prepared for that and died from eating poisonous berries. Being a transcendentalist is great because you can truly grasp the world and be yourself. Except you have to be careful because the world isn't set up in favor of transcendentalists.
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