Transcendentalism is a social and philosophical movement that taught five tenets of how to live life. Those tenets being; Everything reflects the divine soul, God is in nature and man, use your intuition to relate to God and nature, be self-reliant and express your individualism, and be spontaneous and seize the day. Thoreau and Emerson reflect all of these tenets in their poems, and they’re shown in the character Mr. Keating in the movie Dead Poets Society. He teaches the kids at this school all about transcendentalism in English class, and throughout the movie you see the positive and negative effects of his teachings. Transcendentalism shows the importance of spirit over matter and to go with what you want to do, even if it goes against what society does or believes. Doing what transcendentalist believe can be a strength, but it can be a weakness as well.
“Things do not change; we change” (Thoreau). One of the biggest strengths of transcendentalism is change, because change is good. If it weren’t for guys like Emerson and Thoreau, society could run our lives more than it already does. Emerson says that children are more transcendentalist then adults because they still see the beauty in the world. By the time you become an adult, you see the world less beautiful because you’ve probably been hurt in some way. In today’s society everyone wants to fit in but if you conform, what are you doing to society? You’re just adding to it and making it worse. In the Dead Poet Society, Mr. Keating encourages the boys to seize the day. But on the contrary, all the other teachers in the school think why fix something that isn’t broken. They feel that the way they’ve been doing this has worked for years so don’t change it now. Although transcendentalism actions can be good, it can also be very detrimental to the individual and society.
When Keating is explaining poetry to the boys he says “This is a battle, a war. And the casualties could be your hearts and soul.” Doing the right thing isn’t always easy or possible. Keating is trying to show the boys that they need to see life in their own perspective and do what they want to do instead of conforming to what everyone else is doing. Charlie, one of Mr. Keating’s students, takes he’s advice a little too far. He starts putting read lines on his face, drinking, smoking, and bringing girls to their meetings. He makes the biggest change out of all the boys, and ends up getting expelled from school. On the contrary, Neal takes his advice and actually goes out, seizes the day, and live how he really wants to live. Sadly, this leads to a negative effect even though it starts out positive. Neal commits suicide since his father’s pressure doesn’t allow him to break from the conformity of society. Emerson says “Envy is ignorance, imitation is suicide” and Neal proves this is true. If Neal could break away from the conformity of society he would become a better him, and had been able to live a life instead of take his away.
One of the most famous quotes that Emerson says is “to be great is to be misunderstood.” Although some people may not get what your opinion is that makes you better because you’re not like everyone else. Today has much less transcendentalism because now a days, mostly teens, are afraid to speak out against the commons since we all just want to get by and not draw attention like that to ourselves. We’re all afraid of being judged by other people for what we really believe, even if what we believe is right, most people will never let it be known. The boys in Dead Poets Society in the beginning are alike in every way. They all have rich parents that are planning their future for them and no matter how much the boys want to do something else they follow what they’re told. Mr. Keating isn’t trying to tell them to not respect rules and authority, like some people think, but rather is teaching them to ‘reject the status quo’ because they’re life is going to be what they make out of it.
Individualism, non-conformity, and self-reliance are all key points in transcendentalism. All three of these points are incorporated into the movie, Dead Poets Society. Emerson and Thoreau stress these values in all their writings, and it’s the reason their names are so closely associated with the transcendentalism movement. Even though this idea was expressed in the nineteenth century it can still be conveyed in the modern day. The film is a good representation of transcendentalism tenets in today world. Yet the film overall could be seen as one big negative effect, it has a long term effect that has changed that school forever. One of the biggest strengths of it is that it does change how everyone views life as a whole, but one of the biggest weaknesses is that sometimes it takes a long time for those strengths to be regarded as positive things. To be transcendentalist, you need to be able to speak for yourself and express your individuality but, the major thing you need to be able to do, is accept the consequences and hope that someday your words will make a transformation on society’s views.