Alienation and Actualization: From Frederick Douglass to Bell Hooks and Back

The form of the autobiography was a popular vehicle for portraying the profound alienation engendered by institutionalized slavery. Beyond Frederick Douglass’ A Narrative of the Life in 1845, Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave became a bestselling memoir after its 1853 publication and, albeit much later, a universally acclaimed film directed by Steve McQueen in 2013. Perhaps unsurprisingly, there are many thematic similarities between Douglass and Northup’s narratives. Continue reading “Alienation and Actualization: From Frederick Douglass to Bell Hooks and Back”

“Thought Is Her Atmosphere”: Margaret Fuller and Battling Bias

As a revolutionary intellectual, translator, and social critic, Sarah Margaret Fuller was a crucial figure within the Transcendentalist Movement for a number of reasons. For instance, she brought the works of Goethe to New England, facilitating the German writer’s influence on the growing body of American literature. Additionally, she served as the editorial backbone of The Dial in Boston during the publication’s formative years, producing content and curating material deemed too radical to be printed elsewhere. Continue reading ““Thought Is Her Atmosphere”: Margaret Fuller and Battling Bias”

“Rest Is Their Feast”: Henry David Thoreau and Bon Iver as Kindred Spirits

“Arrivèd there, the little house they fill,
Ne looke for entertainment where none was;
Rest is their feast, and all things at their will:
The noblest mind the best contentment has.”

—Edmund Spenser, The Faerie Queene

Henry David Thoreau carefully inscribed this quote onto a yellow walnut leaf during a summer day in 1845. These verses would become the motto of Thoreau’s humble cabin near Walden Pond, a shallow body of water located only a short distance from the town of Concord, Massachusetts. He found a sort of solace in this idyllic landscape; here was an atmosphere of tranquility that, at least temporarily, purged the pain and strife of the human condition. Absorbed into the forest’s flora and fauna, Thoreau would restore his soul; certainly, rest was his feast. Continue reading ““Rest Is Their Feast”: Henry David Thoreau and Bon Iver as Kindred Spirits”

The Ample East and West: Contextualizing Eastern Philosophy in “The Over-Soul”

“Far or forgot to me is near.”

—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Brahma (1856)

While Ralph Waldo Emerson’s profound fascination with Eastern philosophy manifests throughout the entirety of his writings, this specific interest is perhaps the most palatable in “The Over-Soul,” an essay first published in 1841. As Emerson probes the depths of different spiritual relationships in this particular piece, his meandering reflection unfolds into an existential inquiry concerning the nature of the human soul. During this process, Emerson refers to several historical giants of the Occident, including Plato, Plutarch, and Plotinus. But, true to transcendentalist fashion, Emerson reaches “a little beyond” the traditional limits of Western canon. Continue reading “The Ample East and West: Contextualizing Eastern Philosophy in “The Over-Soul””