“…however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be called a slave in fact.”
When Fredrick Douglass faces up to Covey he feels transcendent. Whilst they were fighting, Covey and Douglass were on an equal level. Having faced his master and won Douglass can no longer be called a slave “in fact” because he has released himself of the mental shackles of slavery and freed himself. He is however still a slave in the legal sense or “in form”. This is a very important moment, as a slave Douglass had no last name, no father and no birthday, he had no identity. Through freeing himself mentally Douglass is no longer ‘a slave’, he now has his own sense of identity. This is one of the most important steps Douglass takes towards his own freedom.
Walt Whitman transcended the day to do constraints of class, sex and race, and instead believed all man to be equal in the eyes of nature. He wished to shirk the restraints of society and the roles pushed upon us. Although within ‘Leaves of Grass’ and ‘Song of Myself’ Whitman never explicitly mentions race and his opinions on slavery he does state the following in ‘Song of Myself’;
‘I celebrate myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.’
With this in mind it would seem obscene, from a Whitmanian perspective for a man to have ownership of another man. All men and women were created from the same atoms and no gender, class or racial aspect can change that fundamental fact.
In Emersonian terms, Fredrick Douglass is the perfect example of “Man Thinking”. He teaches himself to read and write, and uses the knowledge he obtains from books to literally transcend. Douglass, through the knowledge and power he has received from books and papers, escapes the mental and physical shackles of slavery. He doesn’t stop there as he uses his ability to articulate through writing to advance the abolitionist movement.
“Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all.”
“The first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature.”
These two quotations from Emerson’s ‘The American Scholar’ seem to directly reflect some of the ideals of Walt Whitman’s ‘Leaves of Grass’. Both authors admire not only the powerful role of nature but also mankind’s part in it. They sing the praises of mans intellectual connection with and within nature. Because of this connection mankind is raised in to ‘Man Thinking’. Both Whitman and Emerson commend the transcendental quality of nature and its effect of man.
NARRATIVE: The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey
A hobbit named Bilbo Baggins lives a peaceful and modest life in the Shire, a wizard named Gandalf persuades him to help a group of dwarves to reclaim the kingdom of Erebor. Along the way Bilbo encounters many dangers including trolls, orcs and an infinitely dangerous ring.
A: At the beginning of the film Bilbo is a meek and cautious character who has never stepped out of his safe little town. His mentor figure, Gandalf the wizard, holds a tea party where Bilbo comes across his first call to adventure. Initially Bilbo refuses the call but eventually accepts his calling.
B: When Bilbo agrees to accompany the dwarves on their quest he begins to develop, becoming stronger and more courageous, saving his company on more than one occasion by his quick thinking and cunning. He comes across tricksters like Gollum and many dangers along his journey.
A’: The film ends with Bilbo being declared a hero by Thorin who accepts this meek hobbit as not only a friend but a respected ally. Bilbo has stayed true to himself but nurtured his inner self developing into a stronger and braver hobbit.
One of the fiercest representations of nature and its effect on man, and vice versa, that I have seen, is Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Princess Mononoke. Within the film a young man, Ashitaka, travels west to cure himself of a curse placed upon him by a boar god who has been corrupted by a bullet wedged inside him. This bullet can be regarded as the start of modern mans ignorant assault on nature. Ashitaka ends up in Iron Town, a mining colony. Separated by a mere strip of land there is a huge forest inhabited by many spirits who maintain the equilibrium of the terrain. Nature is presented as numinous and powerful as it is able to put up a savage fight against the rapacity of the modern industrialisation. The people of Iron Town and the forest spirits are engaged in a bitter war, which symbolises the central conflict of wild nature versus industrialisation and greed. Nature plays an ambiguous and multi layered role in this film from start to end, as both a nurturing and fertile force as well as a benevolent and destructive force: interestingly the more violent aspects of nature presented in this film are also arguably the human qualities the animal gods manifest. For example one of the wolf gods whom Ashitaka comes across says that she could bite his face off, and the giant apes remark a desire to eat the humans. Ashitaka’s interaction with these complex spirits through the narrative change him and inevitably he ends up helping the spirits of the forest protect themselves against the greedy and destructive humans of Iron town. Through this Ashitaka is cured and emerges at the end of the film not just healed physically but also a stronger and richer person. He learns to work with nature rather than against it. At the end of the narrative shows the possibility of coexistence and balance is restored.