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Other Work Senior Seminar

The Legacy of Transcendentalism

This paper is the closest I came to a “Capstone” project, also known as a Senior Seminar paper. I’ve included a few choice excerpts for your viewing pleasure. I managed to combine the assigned topic (discussion of transcendental literature) with my favorite movie, and the end result was a highly enjoyable paper.


I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life…”  Henry David Thoreau

On transcendentalism in the twenty-first century: Transcendentalist literature has been adapted into pop culture and conformed to fit the ideology practiced by today’s society. The focus is no longer that Thoreau “went to the woods” to be a student of nature, but instead that he “wished to live deliberately” and deeply (97). The assumed legacy of transcendentalism survives in the realm of popular culture in a shallow effort to appear intellectual rather than out of a genuine desire to transcend.

On Dead Poets Society and its portrayal of teaching: Keating instructs his students to strive to find their own voice, misquoting Thoreau in the process, “Thoreau said, ‘Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ Don’t be resigned to that. Break out!” (Dead Poets Society). Keating’s imperfect quoting of Thoreau reflects the message the film promotes on a surface level. In the film, Keating is presented as a superteacher and hero to his students; with this title comes the power to educate. In the course of the film, the audience witnesses multiple times where the educator misquotes, glosses over, and abuses the literature he is meant to be teaching. One particularly offensive example is Keating’s encouragement of the students to call him ‘Captain’ rather than ‘Mr. Keating’ in reference to Walt Whitman’s conventional poem “Oh Captain! My Captain!”.

On “Solitude” and social media: With social media outlets such as Facebook, and the invention of the smartphone, no society member is ever truly alone. Some may argue the case of ‘techno-isolation’, a form of isolated existence that results in media overload. However, the type of interactions criticized by Thoreau in his passage on society are not unlike the commonplace Facebook statuses and text messages of the twenty-first century. With the digital age, society is given the ability to remain “plugged in”- the term social media lives up to its name.

By Kathryn

KATIE is a twenty-something held together with iced coffee and her wits. She writes personal confessions and pop culture chronicles.

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