American Transcendentalism is the American version of Romanticism. Transcendentalists borrow A LOT from the British Romantics: nature's inspiration, imagination, political involvement (they were against slavery, in support of women's rights, against the conservative education system). They also added some new things: American individualism: the idea that every person is unique and that, with self-examination, one could live up to their full spiritual potential. In other words, a person can "transcend" their current state to a higher one. This applied to men and women, which was a radical idea at a time when women were incredibly oppressed by something called "The Cult of Domesticity." This is similar to the British "Angel in the House" that we have seen in the Rossetti unit. American Transcendentalists admitted their debt to the British and German Romantics, but they set out to create new, fully American ideas, literature, and political system. They also wanted to redefine American femininity and masculinity. This is what we get a taste of in Little Women.
Louisa May Alcott was the daughter of a Transcendentalist, the student of Emerson and a Feminist activist in her own right. She also wrote one of the first fully American children's novels and in it she attempts to define American womanhood, not as it is defined in England, but in America, where every woman was her own person. Every sister is unique and she shows that every sister is not perfect, as women were required to be. But they were nonetheless all good.
Right from the very first few sentences each sister utters, we see the differences between her and her sisters. Chapter 3 (of the book Little Women, Louisa May Alcott) builds upon that by explaining even more what is unique in each girl. Chapters 4-9 show each girl separately trying to conquer her own daemons and confront them in order to improve. But they are always allowed to explore, make mistakes and learn from them all on their own. Sounds familiar? In Chapter 11, the girls try to be the Domestic Goddesses that the Cult of Domesticity requires them to be, but they fail miserably. Alcott is trying to show with these sisters that American womanhood is varied and diverse and that an American woman's greatest gift is her right to CHOOSE what kind of woman she wants to be. Laurence, the boy next door, is also a revision. He is Alcott's version of what a true American boy should be. In "Castles in the Sky," we see Laurie as he thinks and examines his life over and over. (Note: Laurence's nickname is Laurie, a girl's name. Josephine's nickname is Jo, a boy's name. hmmm...)
The motto or slogan of the Transcendentalists was "KNOW THEYSELF." In other words: a life unexamined is not worth living. The girls and boy all constantly examine themselves and reflect on who they are, what they want to be. See if you can identify what makes each sister special. What is her "burden"? How does Alcott deal with it?
- Little Women, Louisa May Alcott, Chapters One, Three, Twelve, Alcott's Not The Little Women You Thought She Was and Historical and Bibliographical Context. Then write a 200 word journal on your personal opinion and thoughts and ideas on the readings.
These solutions may offer step-by-step problem-solving explanations or good writing examples that include modern styles of formatting and construction of bibliographies out of text citations and references. Students may use these solutions for personal skill-building and practice. Unethical use is strictly forbidden.I think the act of adopting certain aspects of writing or art form is usually how a new style is developed. This leaves me to believe that, transcendentalists borrowing a lot of elements from British Romanticism does not make American Transcendentalism special. However, I think the concept of individual uniqueness introduced by American Transcendentalism at the time was its most distinctive element since at the time it was unheard of that women can also achieve their fullest potentials by knowing their worth. I believe that through stories, people get more inspired to tackle the issues at hand as compared with rallies or press conferences.
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