Monday, January 16, 2012


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Focus Essay


As American literature moved past its early beginnings, new literary styles began to develop, most significantly in the form of two contrasting philosophies. While Transcendentalists embraced the idea of mans inherently “good” values believing anything is possible and disagreeing with conformity, Anti-Transcendentalists saw exactly the opposite. They believed man to be a mixture of good and evil and saw life as a quest. Two American authors who express the values of Transcendentalism and Anti-Transcendentalism would be Emerson and Melville, respectively.

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As a Transcendentalist, Emerson expresses non-conformity in the passage “Self-Reliance.” “Whoso would be a man would be a non-conformist”(pg 5) shows the importance of society to man and how people should not be focused on ‘foolish consistency’ (pg 5) and being misunderstood. People should be original with one another and not focus so much on the conspiracy of society. Emerson says that consistency and conformity doesn’t leave a potentially great soul, person, anything to do. As well as conformity, Transcendentalists believe that anything is possible as long as you put your mind to it. It is also about making your own destiny. For instance, in Emerson’s, “Aphorisms” he states “This time, like all times, is a very good one, if we but know what to do with it.”(pg ) Emerson is clarifying to his audience that as long as you make time for your convictions and act, then no time is better than right now. Procrastination would be alien to him.

In contrast, Melville, as an Anti-Transcendentalist, deals with the concept of man’s fight with evil. In the passage from “Moby Dick”, Melville builds our perception of this great white whale beginning with Ishmael’s introduction “With greedy ears I learned the history of that murderous monster against whom I and all others had taken our oaths of violence and revenge.” (pg 1) Ishmael’s description of Moby Dick makes him a supernatural evil, “… declaring Moby-Dick not only ubiquitous but immortal…that though groves of spears should be planted in his flanks, he would still swim away unharmed…” Ahab’s quest is to kill this evil. Ahab’s monomaniacal pursuit of Moby Dick turns into the real evil. Melville highlights the Anti-Transcendentalism philosophy that all human motives have a mixture of good and evil in the depiction of the Pequod characters in that they aren’t the best of people with Ahab’s insanity driving them to death.

The Transcendentalist and Anti-Transcendentalist aspects on life are very different. Emerson, the Transcendentalist, believes man controls his destiny. Melville, the Anti-Transcendentalist, believes the forces of good and evil heavily influence each man’s destiny. Emerson’s focus is more positive, in that man’s pursuit of his destiny is in his hands and that the evil is conforming to society. Emerson’s outlook is about a man following his convictions and making it reality. Melville is as strong about the importance of the will of man as Emerson, but observes more potential for evil in man. Melville is more about the greater forces that impact man. Emerson is more about the potential of man himself.

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