Development of Transcendentalism
Emerson’s development of Transcendentalism, such as the theme of individuality, is still a part of the American storytelling tradition nearly 200 years later. Emerson encourages individuality by speaking negatively about copying others and being jealous of others. In his essay, Self-Reliance, Emerson states, “Imitation is suicide” (Emerson 209) and “Envy is ignorance” (Emerson 209). Emerson describes imitation as being suicidal because when someone copies someone else and is not being true to who they are and they are “killing” their personality. He also views jealousy as a negative thing, which adds to his belief of staying true to who you are and not copying anyone else. In a Critical Essay on “Self-Reliance” authors say, ”Emerson has made a case that individuals have not only a right but also a responsibility to think for themselves and that neither societal disapproval nor concerns about consistency should discourage these” (Galens, Smith, Thomason 4). This supports the idea of being yourself by saying people have a responsibility to think for themselves. This theme is present in the movie Joe Versus the Volcano when it shows that everyday Joe goes through the same routine with the same people at the same place and begins to conform with the people around him. Throughout the beginning of the movie he starts to break away from the conformity and then he finally stands up to his boss and quits, which shows a sign of individuality.
Emerson’s Role in American Philosophy
Not only is Emerson’s theme of individuality still a part of the American storytelling tradition nearly 200 years later, so is his theme of hard work and development of “gifts”. Emerson says, ”A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds… With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do” (Emerson 209). In this line, Emerson calls people foolish who waste their time doing the same thing over and over again instead of bettering themselves. Authors support Emerson’s statement in Critical Essay on “Self-Reliance” by saying, ”He reassures readers that what appears to be inconsistency and is judged harshly by others is simply the varied but unified activity of a unique individual” (Galens, Smith, Thomason 4). This statement supports Emerson’s idea that if you have a belief one day but then it changes the next day because you’re developing, learning, and bettering yourself, you are still encouraged to follow that belief because it is better than wasting your time on something you already know. This theme is shown in Joe Versus the Volcano when Joe leaves his job where he did the same thing every day and starts to become a much happier and better person and accomplishes more things than he ever did at work because he is learning and developing as a person.
Emerson’s development of Transcendentalism, such as the theme of society causes conformity and loss of self, is still a part of the American storytelling tradition nearly 200 years later. Emerson states, “But they [the voices] grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. Society everywhere is in a conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members… The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.” He is suggesting that society causes us to conform. He strongly believes that you must be a nonconformist and not lose your divine purpose on this earth. (Emerson 209). “He holds that people misunderstand the true nature of progress, mistaking advances in science, technology, and material welfare for progress. Every such advance has a cost as great as its benefit, Emerson claims, and does not really benefit individuals or society in meaningful ways. What passes for progress does not make people either better or happier.
True progress occurs on an individual, not a societal basis, he writes, and results from looking to self, rather than material things, for fulfillment.” (Galens, Smith, Thomason 6). These lines from a Critical Essay on “Self-Reliance” relate Emerson’s belief that society conforms us in a modern way by claiming new advances in technology, such a devices and social media, conform us as a society and we do not benefit from it. The only true progress that will occur is when one looks within themself and connects with the outside world (nature). Emerson’s belief that connecting to nature helps nonconformity is shown in Joe Versus the Volcano when Joe picks up the flower that was squashed in the opening scene. It shows the audience that he is starting to break away from conformity and it is the first hint of Joe connecting with nature.
Not only is Emerson’s theme of society causes conformity and loss of self still a part of the American storytelling tradition nearly 200 years later, but so is Thoreau’s belief that government is a prop, and individuals must act on their moral conscience. Thoreau calls government a “wooden gun” (Thoreau 235) in his essay Civil Disobedience, meaning that it’s a prop/idea and has no power. In this case, Thoreau is saying that men (people) are the ones who have the power, not the government.
The government cannot control society. “Thoreau spent a night in jail because he had refused to pay six years of delinquent poll taxes. He argued that he could not pay funds that helped to support the U.S. government’s war with Mexico, nor could he pay a government that still accepted slavery in its Southern states” (Bankston 2). These lines from Civil Disobedience: Overview tell why Thoreau was put in jail, which emphasizes the fact that people cannot just talk about what they believe is right, they must act on it for change to happen. In Joe Versus the Volcano, Joe acts on his conscience by not conforming with society, leaving his job, and becoming connected with nature because that is what he thinks is morally right. These actions lead him into getting the “job” to jump into the volcano.
Emerson’s development of Transcendentalism, such as the theme of speaking your truth and not being afraid to be misunderstood, is still a part of the American storytelling tradition nearly 200 years later. In Self-Reliance Emerson writes, “Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict everything you said today…To be great is to be misunderstood” (Emerson 209).
Emerson is saying to speak your truth even if it changes as you learn and grow or if you’re judged for it. In a Critical Essay on “Self-Reliance” authors state, “He reassures readers that what appears to be inconsistency and is judged harshly by others is simply the varied but unified activity of a unique individual” (Galens, Smith, Thomason 4). This means that although people may judge you harshly for “contradicting” yourself, it is okay to change your beliefs as you grow older and learn more. In Joe Versus the Volcano, Joe yells at his boss, speaking his truth about the workplace and what kind of person his boss is. He isn’t afraid of what his boss and coworkers think of him or how they judge him while he is saying this to his boss.
Thoreau’s Idea of Physical Jail vs Moral Conscience
Thoreau’s idea of physical jail versus moral conscience, along with Emerson’s theme of speaking your truth and not being afraid to be misunderstood, is still a part of the American storytelling tradition nearly 200 years later. In Civil Disobedience Thoreau writes, “If there was a wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was a still more difficult one to climb or break through before they could get to be as free as I was” (Thoreau 235). Thoreau is claiming that freedom is your mind, not your body. His mind is free for standing up for what he believes in. In Civil Disobedience: Overview Bankston writes, “In his mind, the walls between himself and his townspeople simply make him freer than the others, since he is acting in accord with his own thoughts. Thoreau’s description of his time in jail reads more like an account of a vacation than a punishment.” (Bankston 2). This describes how Thoreau didn’t see spending a night in jail as a punishment because he felt good mentally and morally for standing up against what was wrong by not paying his taxes. This is shown in Joe Versus the Volcano through Joe’s braincloud because it represents his mind being “locked up” and not free, but in the end he realizes that he never had a braincloud and the only thing stopping him from living the life he wanted to was conformity.
The Influence of Transcendentalism
Elements of Transcendentalism, established in the works of Emerson and Thoreau, are apparent in Postmodern film and demonstrated through the concepts of divine purpose, spirituality found in nature versus conformity of society, and freedom of the mind. Transcendentalism encourages people to look closely at the world, to look closely at themselves, and to be radically honest about what they see. Without the beliefs and ideas presented by Emerson and Thoreau inspiring other leaders, our world wouldn’t be where it is today.