Essay PreviewMore ↓
In the society-centered world that has existed for thousands of years, Emerson's and Thoreau's recommendation of living as a self-reliant individual can be a difficult task to accomplish. Society puts pressure on its members to conform to its standards. Nonconformists are shunned by society and as a result have difficulty retaining their nonconformist position. According to Emerson's Self-Reliance, though, this nonconformist, independent stance is the only thing that can bring a person peace. Emerson believes a truly great man lives in the world, but at the same time trusts himself, believes in himself, and is, in a word, independent.
Many people have applied the ideas of Emerson and Thoreau not only to their lives, but also to the characters in books they have read, regardless of whether the author intended such interpretation. The ideas of Emerson and Thoreau can be applied to many of the novels we read in class this year, including The Natural, A Separate Peace, The Old Man and the Sea, and The Scarlet Letter. In each of these novels the main character experienced many difficulties in which he either succeeded or failed. The successes and failures of any particular character were a result of his self-reliance or of his society-reliance.
In The Natural, by Bernard Malamud, the main character, Roy, failed to focus on what was best for him because of his reliance on society rather than on himself. This problem became evident early in the story when the woman Roy met on the train shot him. Had Roy focused on his game, perhaps gone out and practiced baseball rather than visited the woman, he never would have gotten shot. Having such skill as he had, he could have easily signed with the Cubs, and he could have had an extraordinary baseball career. Unfortunately for him, Roy put too high a priority on his relationship with the woman from the train. As a result, Roy's baseball career not only didn't start for another 10-15 years, but also was nothing compared to the career he would have had with the Cubs.
Generally, people learn from their mistakes. As Malamud writes on page 217, "He [Roy] thought, I never did learn anything out of my past life, now I have to suffer again." Rather than straightening out his priorities in the years between the time he was shot and the time he actually played baseball, Roy made no change.
How to Cite this Page
"A Separate Peace, The Natural, The Scarlet Letter, and The Old Man and the Sea." 123HelpMe.com. 05 Dec 2019
Need Writing Help?
Get feedback on grammar, clarity, concision and logic instantly.Check your paper »
- How God’s Mercy Shines Through to the World Abraham Lincoln, one of the most revered presidents of our country, once expressed “I have always found that mercy bears richer fruits than strict justice.” Throughout history, many men have tried to teach their people by punishment. From the times of ancient Egypt, to the Dark Ages of Europe, even up to the times of colonial America, persecution, humiliation, and torture have been used to enforce the principles of righteousness. But God has seemingly different ideas.... [tags: Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Scarlet Letter]
748 words (2.1 pages)
- "The act…gross and brief, and brings loathing after it." This was said by St. Augustine, regarding immorality. This is discovered to be very true by the main characters in The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne's story of a woman (Hester) who lives with the Puritans and commits adultery with the local minister (Dimmesdale). In his novel, Hawthorne shows that sin, known or unknown to the community, isolates a person from their community and from God. He shows us this by symbols in nature around the town, natural symbols in the heavens, and nature in the forest.... [tags: essays research papers]
1114 words (3.2 pages)
- World War II, the major historical event during the life of John Knowles, the author of A Separate Peace, started in 1939. Germany instigated the war, and shortly afterward was joined by Japan and Italy. America, however, fought on the side of The Allies, England and France. Although the United States was still recovering from the Great Depression, it entered the war after the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. The military drafted men into the war, and women took their places in the work force, people abandoned the old way of life and looked forward to a new one.... [tags: A Separate Peace Essays]
2067 words (5.9 pages)
- In John Knowles’ novel, A Separate Piece, the main Character, Gene Forrester, has to learn to become friends with his hazardous roommate, Phineas, at his school, Devon, in New Hampshire. The novel is affected by a number of changes, however the largest and most significant change is the change in seasons. In Thomas C. Foster’s novel, How to read literature like a Professor, chapter twenty explains the significance of the seasons. Foster states that, “Summer [symbolizes] adulthood and romance and fulfillment and passion,” while, “ winter [symbolizes] old age and resentment and death.” John Knowles’ book A Separate Peace, all aspects of Summer, Fall, and Winter are excellently represented as... [tags: Season, Autumn, A Separate Peace, Winter]
910 words (2.6 pages)
- Maturity in A Separate Peace In A Separate Peace, by John Knowles, the focus spotlight is quickly turned upon Gene Forrester and his maturity through the novel. He expresses his ideas about the many subjects through the book through his position as the novel's narrator. Also, as the book progresses, so does Gene's maturity. The first chapter of A Separate Peace establishes the character Gene Forrester, who in actuality is a portrayal of John Knowles himself, according to a recent interview.... [tags: A Separate Peace Essays]
804 words (2.3 pages)
- A Separate Peace A Separate Peace is a novel by John Knowles that is about prep school experiences during World War II. This book was a good story about an adolescents attempt to understand the world and himself. I enjoyed reading about Gene's journey towards maturity and the adult world. This book takes place in Devon School, New Hampshire during a summer session when Gene Forrester was sixteen years old. One day Gene and Finny, his friend and roommate, went to a large tree by the river. Finny suggested that they try and jump from the tree into the river below them.... [tags: Separate Peace Essays]
2608 words (7.5 pages)
- John Knowles' "A Separate Peace" and Struggle for Power John Knowles' A Separate Peace depicts many examples of how power is used. In A Separate Peace, two opposing characters struggle for their own separate might. Gene Forrester, the reserved narrator, is weakened by his struggle for power. While, Phineas was inspired by his own power within. The novel conveys how peace can weaken or inspire during a mental war. Phineas, a natural rebel, is known as the best athlete in school. For example, he and three others come to look at a tree, which is considered among the Upper Middler students at Devon an impossibility.... [tags: Knowles Separate Peace Power Essays]
800 words (2.3 pages)
- Friendship and Hatred in A Seperate Peace The line between friendship and hatred can sometimes be very unclear. Where exactly does one cross over this line. Could it possibly be when one discovers envy within himself for his friend, or is it when he begins to wish he is somewhere other then where he is. In the novel A Separate Peace by John Knowles, the friendship line between Finny and Gene is extremely unclear. What would cause ones best friend to jounce a tree limb in hopes the other would be harmed.... [tags: Separate Peace Essays]
661 words (1.9 pages)
- A Separate Peace - Friendship We have all experienced friendship in our lives; some of these bonds were lasting and others were not. A Separate Peace is a book that deals with the friendship of high school boys. These boys attend an all-boy’s school called Devon School. It is said that: "Devon is sometimes considered the most beautiful school in New England." "Devon was both scholarly and very athletic." Devon is where Gene Forrester, Phineas (Finny) and Elwin (Leper) Lepellier attend school. Author John Knowles sets the story during World War II. This time period makes the boys have to think about which branch of the military they want to enlist in.... [tags: A Separate Peace Essays]
1006 words (2.9 pages)
- A Separate Peace by John Knowles A Separate Peace was written by John Knowles in 1959 when he was 33. it is ser in a New Hampshire prep school during WWII. A few teens at this school are greatly affected by the war. Many adults are asking them to join the armed forces. Gene, the main character, trains with his once athletic star friend, Finny, for the Olympics. Although against the war many people request that he join. His other friend, Leper, joins and receives a Section 8 discharge for being considered "mentally unstable." Even though against the war, many of the boys do join the troops just to avoid being drafted to the front lines.... [tags: Knowles Separate Peace]
788 words (2.3 pages)
Obviously, Roy failed in his struggle with keeping his priorities straight. Emerson and Thoreau would agree and attribute the failure to how poorly Roy acted as an individual. There were many examples of situations in which Roy let others affect his decisions and actions. Roy was influenced by Sam to play professional baseball; later, by his relationship with Memo and also by the judge to set the game; then by Iris to win the game for his baby; and by others in various additional circumstances. Roy conformed to those around him, and he didn't trust himself. Had Roy acted as an individual, his self-reliance would have kept him out of the problems into which he got himself.
Another novel modeling a society-reliant character is A Separate Peace by John Knowles. In the story, the main character, Gene, went through school, all the while struggling with becoming a true man. According to Emerson, it's easy to live in the world and depend on society, and it's easy to live in solitude and be independent, but being an individual in society (self-reliant) is a difficult task, the determining factor in a great man. Therefore, Gene's struggle can be seen not only as a struggle to grow up into a great man, but also to become self-reliant.
One small struggle Gene experienced that came as part of growing up into a great man had to do with his best friend, Finny and with his academic studies. When Finny invited Gene to play games every day Gene began to think that Finny was jealous of him and was trying to prevent him from doing well in school. In actuality, it was because Finny was naturally athletic that he thought good grades came naturally, without effort to Gene and that he didn't need to study. Gene's fantasies of Finny's jealousy eventually made him jealous of Finny, jealous that things came so easily to Finny, but not to himself. Rather than trusting himself, as Emerson and Thoreau would say is required for self-reliance, Gene let his jealousy of Finny grow.
By the end of the book, Gene had grown older - he had become a man, but he hadn't gotten any closer to becoming a great man. In his jealousy, Gene had done some horrible things to Finny, things that eventually lead to his death. Gene had let his desire to be accepted by society and his interpretation of his best friend's actions eat away at him. Rather than growing into a great man (by Emerson's definition), Gene grew into a society-dependent man. He let society's values, society's thoughts about the way things should be, rather than his own ideas, take charge of him and rule over his life. Gene may have achieved some type of peace (as suggested in the book), but he didn't achieve peace, according to Emerson's definition ("Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. " - Self-Reliance, paragraph 50).
In both The Natural and A Separate Peace, the main characters weren't self-reliant and failed the struggles in their lives. In The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemmingway, though, the main character, Santiago, succeeded in his struggle with the fish because he was a self-reliant man. The day Santiago hooked the fish, he was out alone. He struggled for days with the fish, pushing himself to extremes. Despite Santiago's aching body and cut hands, he was able to feed himself, deal with his thirst, catch the fish, for a time ward off the sharks, and bring what was left of the fish back to shore.
Santiago's success with the fish came as a result of his self-reliance. Although it would have been much easier if the boy had been with Santiago, he was able to catch the fish alone. Santiago trusted himself; he knew he could catch the fish if he kept at it, and he was able to motivate himself to do so. Regardless of how tired he got, he refused to give up. Also, in his town, the younger fishermen and some of the other townspeople (for example, the boy's parents) looked down upon Santiago. This was mostly due to the fact that he was old and didn't catch much any more. Even though Santiago had been a much better and more renowned fisherman at a younger age, he wasn't bothered by the fact that society looked down upon him because he had aged and had lost some of his touch. If Santiago hadn't been self-reliant, he wouldn't have had the determination that he had. Rather, he would have listened to society and quit fishing because he was old. Santiago was truly a great man when looked at from Emerson's and Thoreau's perspective. He lived in society, but didn't conform to it. Just as Santiago's self-reliance aided him through his struggle with the fish, so also it carried him through the rest of his everyday life.
In The Scarlet Letter, as in The Old Man and the Sea, the main character, Hester Prynne, succeeded in her struggles due to the fact that she was self-reliant. In fact, Hester was probably more self-reliant than Santiago because she had to endure more grief from society. Early in the story, Hester's struggle became evident. Hester was banished, set apart from the society in which she lived. She had to deal with the punishment for her actions and the treatment she received from the Puritan society. The ironic part in this is that her actions came about as a result of her self-reliance. She was originally from Europe, but when she came to America, she never fully accepted the Puritan way of life and the Puritan beliefs. She didn't conform. (According to Emerson, not conforming to society is a key aspect of self-reliance.) In her non-conformity to the society, she committed the sin. The scarlet letter was placed upon Hester as a symbol of shame. She was shunned by society, and she dealt with this by continuing in self-reliance. As long as she stayed self-reliant, society couldn't touch her.
Furthermore, Hawthorne showed that when Hester appeared for the first time before the town for her public ignominy she was unaffected. In the second chapter, Hawthorne wrote, "she repelled him [the town beadle], by an action marked with natural dignity and force of character, and stepped into the open air, as if by her own free-will." Two paragraphs later, Hawthorne wrote, "Those who had before known her, and had expected to behold her dimmed and obscured by a disastrous cloud, were astonished, and even startled, to perceive how her beauty shone out, and made a halo of the misfortune and ignominy in which she was enveloped." This clearly shows how Hester is unaffected by the ignominy, how she acts as if nothing is happening. Some may argue that Hester was actually affected by the punishment. The public shame may have had somewhat of an effect on Hester - suddenly being treated in a demeaning manner will affect anyone, even the most self-reliant person. Hester quickly realized, though, that being self-reliant and giving no regard to ill treatment from society would pull her through her life as a social outcast. Had she truly learned from her punishment, she wouldn't have planned to leave town with Arthur Dimmesdale.
When society said adultery was wrong, Hester committed it nevertheless and was going to commit it again (by leaving with Dimmesdale). When society punished her and looked down upon her, Hester survived on her own. Not only did she support herself, but also her daughter. Hester dealt with the stigma of the scarlet letter brought about because of her self-reliant actions by continuing in self-reliance.
Although many people have taken Emerson's and Thoreau's ideas about self-reliance and the individual seriously, it doesn't mean that they are true. The fact that their ideas can be seen in literature, (with or without the intent of the author) does not give them any merit whatsoever. Emerson's Self-Reliance includes many references from the Bible. The irony is that his ideas don't follow the Bible. He used only the verses he liked and then forgot the rest. For example, Emerson wrote in the 34th paragraph of Self-Reliance, "...tell men they are not leaning willows, but can and must detach themselves; that with the exercise of self-trust, new powers shall appear; that a man is the word made flesh, to shed healing to the nations..." Emerson drew the emphasized phrase directly out of John 1:14 - "And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth." Since the Bible describes this Word as God in John 1:1 ("In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. "), Emerson's reasoning leads to the conclusion that man is God. Emerson twisted the passage that can refer to ABSOLUTELY NO ONE EXCEPT JESUS so that it referred to mankind - the same mankind who succumbed to the temptation to "be like God, knowing good and evil" (Genesis 3:5).
Furthermore, as was stated, Emerson focuses on the role of the individual. He explains that the only way to peace is through yourself. He wrote, "Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind." He even went so far as to say that prayer to God or anyone or anything else shows weakness and is a sign of a person who isn't self-reliant. Again, the actual teachings of the Bible are quite different. First, Ephesians 2:1 says, "And you were dead in your trespasses and sins." Alone, without God, we are dead, as opposed to Emerson's belief that we're only truly alive when we are self-reliant. Second, the Bible explains that we can have true peace - peace with God and knowledge of where we will go after we die. This peace is in no way a result of anything we have done - Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast." Third, prayer isn't a sign of weakness, as Emerson believed, but a sign of God working in a person's life. Through prayer, a person can speak to God and make requests or just worship Him. Rather than being self-reliant, we should be and we need to be reliant on God.
In the eyes of Emerson and Thoreau, both Hester and Santiago succeeded in their struggles. The value of their struggles comes into question, though. At what did they really succeed? Santiago caught a fish, but lost all the meat. Hester succeeded in committing adultery and keeping the shame from destroying her, but in the end, her lover died. Maybe Hester and Santiago did succeed, but what did their struggles matter? What bearing did their struggles have on eternity? As James writes, "Yet you do not know what your life will be like tomorrow. You are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away." (James 4:14). By following Emerson's suggestion to live in the world but trust in oneself, no one will get anywhere. By trusting in God, however, anyone will truly succeed in life and have true peace.