Transcendentalism in Anti-Transcendentalism

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Transcendentalism in Anti-Transcendentalism

Post  proey on Wed May 13, 2009 1:12 am

Anti-Transcendentalism is not completely "anti"-Transcendentalist--both Melville and Hawthorne implement Transcendentalist ideas into their writing. In Moby Dick, Ahab expresses hope and unlimited potential, proclaiming that he can kill Moby Dick, which may seem impossible to the reader. "Truth hath no confines," he said. This is very similar to the idea of unlimited potential as explained by Emerson, in saying that there are no bounds, no walls containing him. That belief in himself spreads through all of his men. "For again Starbuck's downcast eyes lighted up with the stubbornness of life..." This quote shows that the optimism, "stubbornness of life," is unable to be rid of, despite the warning signs and the foreboding tone Melville expresses. This is where anti-Transcendentalism and Transcendentalism meet--in a battle of wills, who will prevail? Since Starbuck's eyes lit up amongst all the pessimism in the atmosphere, I believe that Melville is saying that Transcendentalist ideas can overshadow those of anti-Transcendentalists.
However, later on, Starbuck says, "'God keep us, but already my bones feel damp within me, and from the inside wet my flesh. I misdoubt me that I disobey my God in obeying him!'" This is an evident faltering of spirit, and, as someone I can't remember said in class, "a reality check." The high hopes were trampled upon by anti-Transcendentalism. Also, Starbuck says that he is disobeying God by obeying Ahab. Ahab is then shown as the antagonist AGAINST natural reality, or the universal truth (God). Thus, it could be concluded that Melville is stating that Transcendentalist beliefs of unlimited potential goes against natural order, and that, at some point, Ahab must falter.
As I continued reading, I realized that Melville still has some Transcendentalism in the latter part of Moby Dick. "'...not too late is it, even now, the third day, to desist. See! Moby-Dick seeks thee not. It is thou, thou, that madly seekest him!'" says Starbuck.
This softens the trampling of anti-Transcendentalism because it seems as if Ahab is pursuing something that is not part of his "puzzle piece": that whatever higher power exists did not intend for him to chase and kill Moby Dick. This chase is a product of Ahab's chronic and overdriven ego-mind that goes beyond in ways that diverges from what one's Intuition would guide one through.
Hawthorne, on the other hand, shows a contrast between conformity and individuality through society and nature. In order to serve out her shame, Hester must conform to society, even though she was previously known to be a passionate, extravagant, very un-Puritan-like figure. That conformity, an anti-Transcendentalist idea, shoved her into a fake self that contained her real self--the self that wants to come out. When Hester enters the forest, the scarlet letter, her cap thing, and all binds to society were cut and thrown away, as if the connection with nature lets out one's Being. That is a Transcendentalist concept.
I don't know what to call this--more Transcendentalist or anti-Transcendentalist. Perhaps the Transcendentalist ideas were merely inserted into the story in order to make the antithesis that would support the anti-Transcendentalist ideas. Or, there really is no separation of these ideas. As opposite as they are, being developed in the same era, they are forever interrelated.
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Re: Transcendentalism in Anti-Transcendentalism

Post  ivy on Sat May 16, 2009 3:37 pm

After reading your post, I suddenly realize that Starbuck seems to represent a more transcendentalist idea. He does not conform easily to what Ahab has said, and he questions whether he is blindly following Ahab or not. However, the one thing that Starbuck does not do is stand up against the authority (technically, he did, but he did not persist for long.) So, Starbuck most likely stands for the nonconformists in the society, even though Melville does not seem to think they are capable of resisting the society, so they will eventually bend to the rules.
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