Transcendentalist Final Essay

March 12, 2008 at 12:17 (Uncategorized)

Use one of the two questions to formulate a 5 paragraph (or more) essay. Final draft due by Friday, March 14th. Only post your completed final draft after you’ve turned in a hard copy to me.

Question 1: What were the Anti-Transcendentalists fighting against? Use the opinions/stories of at least 2 authors to support your opinion.


Question 2: How would Emerson define “realized potential” for a human being? Would Emerson agree with him?



  1. Scott Hutchinson said,

    The anti transcendentalists believed in the possibility that the only thing found in the recesses of the mind were dark destructive things, the darker human mind. They believe that within the mind of anyone exist dark and possible deeply disturbing things. They feared these things because they are ailments that only the beholder can comprehend; only the beholder can feel. They were afraid of the true nature of the human psyche. Many anti-transcendentalists would’ve looked into the mind if they could’ve unlocked the code, Melville especially wanted this. Authors like Poe however were more interested in bringing the darkness of the true human mind into the lives of the common man. And even when something so small as a slip of black crape covers one’s face, everything one holds dear can be shrouded in darkness.

    In Hawthorne’s “ministers black veil” the townspeople function normally as a community until the black veil is introduced. It can be perceived as a window into the human soul. The townspeople’s response can only signify that what they see is something terrible. “When Mr. Hooper came, the first thing that their eyes rested on was the same horrible black veil which had added deeper gloom to the funeral and could portend nothing but evil to the wedding.” Hawthorne wanted us to know he feared what secrets and darkness lies within us, which revealed by the veil frightened and concerned many. Even after his death it is inferred that he still wears the veil. A symbolic notion that the veil is timeless and endless, there will always be hidden deep dark corners, and knowledge that is kept more secret than any other.

    Another well known anti transcendentalist was Edgar Allen Poe. Poe’s views on mentality and the interior of the mind were filled with dark and twisted realities. In “The Fall of The House of Usher” Poe explores the complexities of a hypochondriac and his catatonic twin sister. The story divulges that the two share some form of incestual bond. He later explains that the house holds a part in this bond also. The story is a great example of Poe’s Gothic anti-transcendental views on the mind, shown in this excerpt: “It was, he said, a constitutional and a family evil and one for which he despaired to find a remedy—a mere nervous affection he immediately added which would undoubtedly soon pass off.” The way the siblings interact and Usher’s imaginary diseases reveal the darkness Poe believed laid within even the sanest of all persons. And even then they would not exist without the opposites.

    The transcendentalists wanted to unlock the full potential of the human mind, but many authors such as Melville had a different view entirely. In his story “Moby Dick” he explores the mind and life of the suicidal Captain Ahab. He leads a group of unknowing sailors into a kamikaze mission against the white whale Moby Dick, the same whale that removed a large portion of Ahab’s leg. The captain wants what the whale has. He can never grasp what exactly it is, or if unlocking it is what he truly desires. In the end he ends his risks his own life trying to overcome the whale’s great power but he destroys himself in the process. In the section “Quarter-Deck” he reveals the captain’s true ambition, “Hark ye yet again—the little lower layer. All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks. But in each event—in the living act the undoubted deed—there, some unknown but still reasoning thing puts forth the moldings of its features from behind the unreasoning mask. If a man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall?” Even though he knew not what he would find he would risk everything to uncover it. Clearly a symbolic look into the dark recesses of his soul, corrupted by evil thought, and the lack of knowledge of his true desires, the story is truly an outstanding example of anti-transcendentalist literature.

    Whichever side you choose side you can ever know the true potential of the inner mind. It is a question that will never be answered. Both sides can argue they are right but I believe what lies within the human mind is far too complex for even the greatest thinkers among us to decipher. The mind may someday be unlocked but the inner caverns will never truly be explored.

  2. Nick Taylor said,

    Anti-transcendentalists were afraid of many different things in society. When reading the stories of these authors you can see what their opinion on human nature really is. They are against the human nature of people to conform to society, and to take after their ancestors’ ways. Through these stories the authors are showing their beliefs and fighting against conformity.

    In Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Minister’s Black Veil, The reverend Hooper begins to wear a black veil in a very prominent puritan community. The people throughout the community become afraid of the man and do not understand why he has chosen to wear this dark and mysterious veil. Hooper says that the veil represents sin, and is there to remind that all people have a secret sin. I believe Hawthorne was using this veil to show the dark secrets hidden within a seemingly normal person. Hawthorne is fighting conformity by showing the Puritan community that just because you are a follower of the Church it does not make you a perfect person.

    In the story The Fall of the House of Usher Poe uses unique imagery to show his fears and beliefs when it comes to society. Usher the main character in the story is a hypochondriac who believes that he is going to die. Poe is showing how a man can become harmful to himself and to others through their own weaknesses and mental illnesses. A good example of this is when Usher believes that his sister is dead and buries her alive. At the end of the story his sister breaks out of the tomb and dies in the arms of Usher. Usher then dies from terror. The fact that Usher was brought up by a famous family and become harmful to himself and others proves the point that conforming to society and being brought up in your parent’s ways doesn’t always work out.

    Both of these authors are fighting against conformists in two unique ways. Poe uses Usher to show how a person can go the wrong way and grow up so harmful. Hawthorne uses the Black Veil to fight conformity and to the show secret sins everybody has. In general people tend to lean towards their parents views and opinions.

  3. Lon Anthony Willis said,

    (QUESTION 2)

    I personally don’t believe the AT’s (Anti-Transcendentalists) were necessarily afraid, but they were fighting against the belief that people where good. In the way a few of these authors wrote their short stories, I came to the realization that I believe people are selfish and ruthless on the inside and I’ll prove it to you.

    For example, Poe emphasizes on making the reader visualize the setting, characters, the mood…etc, but not in the sense that he’s writing about open fields and unicorns. He writes about how dark and dreary. He even shows it with the house’s architecture, decay, and even the lighting; symbolizing the mind of Usher. Giving the reader an image of how Usher is a hypochondriac and what his view of life is. I’m going to have a firm positive guess to the fact that Poe was not afraid of people being evil on the inside, but yet it seems to me he was encouraging it.

    Another perfect example is how Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is showing how even someone with so much power can still be evil on the inside; in reference to Captain Ahab. “Evil” in this story is obsession. Ahab was engulfed with the ocean anything and everything he thought of and saw, he found a connection with it to the ocean. He was also a victim of greed in the sense of wanting to kill the white whale, Moby Dick. The whale was portrayed as a wall to Ahab for him to break through it to become more powerful. Ahab was also suicidal because of his problem with perfection with himself. It’s ironic how Herman Melville made the character Ahab greedy while also being a perfectionist, with the meaning of the name Ahab is “seeking unconquerable heights”. With this story it shows how people even in higher places among their peers, have no remorse for other people except for themselves. Selfish.

    In my last example of the AT’s fighting against other’s beliefs, I’d like to use a story I relate to the most, “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau. This story is portraying not to a certain group of people being evil on the inside, but yet how all of society, culture, and basically how mainstream media is evil. I agree with this, I see how culture can morph someone into a breathing manikin. Henry D. Thoreau tried to break off from everything and everyone by going out into nature. He basically wanted to find his own path to take, to break from routine, and to be basic but his own “basic”. Also how poverty is a positive thing; when you have so little, you appreciate so much more.

    In conclusion to all of this, I understand how these authors could think this way. Past experiences with pain, guilt, and just flat-out feeling bad/sad. Never truly do leave you, it becomes baggage. It is something we all learn from and use to make daily (or challenging) decisions in our lives. I will say this, there is only one person I personally knew who was not evil on the inside. He was a very happy, loving, selfless, and understanding man in the inside. My grandfather Lon D. Wickham.

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