Transcendentalism 2 Essay, Research Paper
Nathaniel Hawthorne and Transcendentalism
Nathaniel Hawthorne, an American writer, was born in Salem, Massachusetts on July 4, 1804. His widowed mother raised him until she sent him to school at Bowdain College, where he decided he wanted to become a writer. This dream of his finally came true in 1837, when he first established himself as a writer.
Hawthorne was a man strongly influenced by his Puritan heritage. He was a man of very strong opinionated, but sometimes changing beliefs. At first, Hawthorne seemed to even share some of the same beliefs of the great Transcendentalist, Ralph Emerson. He joined a Transcendentalist community called Brook Farm, but later decided he had different views and left Brook Farm. He then decided to become an anti-Transcendentalist.
To truly grasp why Hawthorn became opposed to Transcendentalism, one must observe what Hawthorne found erroneous with the School of Thought. Transcendentalism philosophy addresses God not as a person, but rather as a spiritual force, which encompasses everything and everyone. The spirit does not originate from a single divine being but instead streams throughout Nature. This causes a person to become involved with divine potentials. Each individual person gains access headed for the spiritual force by coming in contact with the goodness and beauty of Nature. Each of these individuals holds reason, and can exceed to the higher plane of understanding. People of transcendentalism believe that insight is the ultimate form of reason. They feel that one s own instincts are the ultimate truth because impulse and urge are the divine authority. This makes individualism very significant and causes people to seek their own path to God. Basically, this means that Transcendentalism depends on a complete faithfulness to the self.
This approach is very autonomous because it is maintaining the idea that internal authority has more power over external authority (Hart 570). Overall, Transcendentalists was a very optimistic approach, underlying that divine truth is everywhere. Transcendentalists approach to evil also brought up some question. They said they acknowledged evil, yet they do not see it as an obstacle to cross over to get to perfection. So basically, they deny evil because in their eyes a person can rectify all of his own evil actions. Hawthorne just could not accept these beliefs. His view of evil was rather different and he could not bring himself to agree in this manner.
Many people believed that Hawthorne had a bit of gloominess about him, which helped him keep his mind at reassured. Probably the first person to recognize Nathaniel s darkness was author, Herman Melville. In Melville s essay, Hawthorne and His Mosses , he describes the soul of Hawthorne as shrouded in blackness (Melville 1935). He even goes further to say that many of Hawthorne s readers do not identify the blackness in his rather meek tales. However, this obscurity fits right in with the mentality of Hawthorne.
Hawthorne got many of his viewpoints from his Puritan ancestry. His relatives were prominent Puritan judges in New England; his grandfather even supervised the Salem witchcraft trials. Hawthorne thoroughly adopted John Calvin s central theory of Puritanism. As Henry James stated it in this manner, Hawthorne found the necessary darkness in his Puritan heritage… and [would] capitalize on the darkness latent in America s Puritan history and heritage (James 13). However, it is not totally accurate to say that Hawthorne spoke from a Puritan era, because Puritans maintain that society must be terrorized by the natural evil of sin and that certain people were capable of salvation. Hawthorne went even expanded this idea to say that a purification of a society was basically impossible. Hawthorne also found a problem in Transcendentalism for the fact that they refuse to acknowledge the noticeable existence and domination of evil. Hawthorne believes one should acknowledge the evil and confront it directly.
One very interesting piece of information is the surprising fact that Hawthorne s wife, Sophia Peabody, was actually a member of the Transcendentalism Club. Even though he and his wife had a very happy and open marriage, his mentality toward Transcendentalism did not fade. This particular club his wife was involved in included such members as Ralph Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and Margaret Fuller.
Even though he disagreed with Transcendentalism, Hawthorne did actually live at the community of Brook Farm. This just happened to be the place where the Transcendentalists club determined to begin creating their perfect society. Hawthorne said he joined Brook Farm to help live more peaceful with each other than the common community. One of the biggest Transcendentalists, Ralph Emerson, was not quite as eager to join. He stated, I do not wish to remove my present prison to a prison a little larger. I wish to break all prisons (Mellow 179).
In Hawthorne s opinion, the Nature of evil is deceit. Although people want community of great utopia, the reality is not so promising. Hawthorne uses a variety of metaphors in The Blithesdale Romance and in Brook Farm . Hawthorne sees a theme to go along with deception in the recognition of evil. The demon at the center of every person s soul manifests in the disenchanted person. He demonstrates this theme in the short story Young Goodman Brown .
Goodman Brown has a meeting with the Devil in the forest deep within his soul. He believes that his Faith will always be there for him and that he and his friends are people of good prayers and abide no such wickedness (Hawthorne 1238). However, he soon finds out that this is not always the case. He tries to bring virtue into a world of vice, and realizes he is up against an unbeatable force. Basically, Goodman Brown has a kind of revelation and realizes he must accept that all things can be deceptive and that the truth is hard to find. Having this knowledge, he pretty much loses all of his Faith .
Hawthorne really had a hard time trying to believe the way that a Transcendentalist would believe. His belief, that evil is lurking at the core of every human being and keeping him or her from any real good, is the main reason causing Hawthorne to disagree with Transcendentalism. Both his writings, The Blithesdale Romance and Young Goodman Brown help back up his feelings.
Even though Hawthorne was rather good friends with Emerson and lived in a Transcendentalist community, he never could bring himself to accept the beliefs of true transcendentalism. Hawthorne just could never get over the fact that Emerson did not agree with his feelings toward evil being real and very powerful.