The Quest For a Transcendental Hero
Nolen, William Joseph
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This work begins by briefly exploring the historical, cultural, and economic factors springing up from the rise of scientific and economic materialism in the crux of capitalism. It is argued that the bourgeois value system strangled the possibility of heroic action in the public arena and thereby eliminated the poet’s ability to find a heroic figure in nineteenth century America. The focus is then shifted to the Transcendentalist movement (Emerson, Thoreau and Fuller), who fear the loss of the hero as the loss of inspiration for mankind and the loss of subject matter for poets. The works and ideas of Emerson are interpreted as an attempt at inspiring individuals in the public to step forth into the spotlight of Western society in the hopes of counteracting the trends and forces in modernity that render the metropolitan citizen ineffectual and complacent. Thoreau’s experiments in Walden and civil disobedience are examined in the light of early efforts to find venues of political action in the private life of the everyday man as a possibility for heroism. Fuller is sketched as the prototype for modernized vates or prophet as poet/hero. It is argued that Fuller brings to life the dual role of hero and poet via the social activism she attempted in her use of the press in order to make the public aware of the ills in society as a means of mobilization and serving as an apocryphal propaganda. The extent to which each individual succeeded and/or failed is also to be described.