Transcendentalism is a movement that started in New England in the early to mid nineteenth century. It was created as a protest against the general culture at the time, straying away from the mindless doctrines of the churches. I think that Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, and Dickinson did a good job of explaining what Transcendentalism is really about, which is that death is coming for everyone. Our Town stands out to me because it doesn’t use any props, and its strong symbolism that makes a point without being boring and difficult to understand. There is some question to what you can define the meaning as, however. “Thornton Wilder’s Our Town reflects the ideas and ideals central to Transcendentalism. The musings of Emerson and Thoreau can be heard echoing from the streets of Grover’s Corners, and the poetry of Dickinson and Whitman reverberates in the words of Wilder’s timeless characters. The play presents us with a glimpse of what Thoreau must have felt at Walden Pond”. I personally do not entirely agree with this quote. I think that while Our Town does incorporate several different ideas of Transcendentalism it is lacking its main theme: nature.
Our Town is filled with many themes that are similar to Transcendentalism. Thornton is showing us how the small things we really do not think much about are actually the biggest and most important parts of our life. Unfortunately, one really realizes this and those moments are not truly appreciated. When Emily dies, she is a spirit in the graveyard with the rest of the people buried there. Emily finally understands the importance of the little things when she goes back in time and relives one of her early birthdays. She comments to her husband’s late mother that “They don’t understand, do they?” If you do not enjoy the things that happen every day, how can you possibly enjoy your life? Through the actions of the characters in Our Town, Thornton basically tells us “Just do it”. Life is too short to waste it sitting on the fence or being hung up in things, just live your life and don’t waste time. A good example of this is when Mrs. Gibbs finally accepts that her husband isn’t going to go on some fancy vacation out of town and stops worrying about it.
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While Our Town is obviously influenced by the idea of Transcendentalism, I do not think it does justice to the idea. Transcendentalism’s main theme is
the beauty and glory of nature. What we as a society think is important means nothing to nature, and we as people are nothing compared to nature. Transcendentalism in my opinion is almost like Pantheism. God basically is the entity that is nature, and we already know God unknowingly instead of having some big spiritual quest to find God. Our Town has little to nothing about nature or the ideas surrounding it. This is why I do not think Our Town really expresses Transcendentalism; you cannot have the idea without themes of nature.
Regardless of what ideas Our Town is trying to explain, it is still a very successful and enjoyable play that is a great example of American literature. As much as I enjoyed watching it, I can’t comfortably call it a good example of Transcendentalism. Nature is too much of a central theme to be cut out from the idea, you could even say the focusing on society and the man made town goes directly against the ideas the Transcendentalism authors have created.
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