Romanticism was a literary and artistic movement that emphasized individualism by inspiring a social change. It was considered a period that increasingly portrayed new, mass cultural views, such as emphasizing an individualr’s ability to remove themselves from a restricting society. Writers, such as Walt Whitman, Edgar Allen Poe, and Fanny Fern, used their works to draw attention to how individuals fit into their society. They contributed to the Romantic Era by acknowledging the relationship between social or political events and the emotional attachment that individuals have towards them. Therefore, the following writers and their literary works expose the individualistic rights of people, as opposed to being subjected to the whims of society.
Imagination is a significant quality in Romantic literature. This helped to hone in on the emotional aspect of individualism. Walt Whitman used this creative technique in his poem, Vigil Strange I Kept on the Field One Night. Whitman explored the bond between two comrades who each faced loss. In doing so, he also explored the idea that some situations limit how people can, and should, act in society. In the second line of the poem, the narrator states, When you my son and my comrade dropt at my side that day (1454). This shows that the narrator viewed his comrade as family because the war brought them together. It also tells that the son was injured and that the narrator Found you in death so cold dear comrade (never again on earth responding) (1454). This exposed two losses The one man lost his life and the other lost his dear friend and loved one. Further, the Vigil of silence, love and death, was during the night in starlight. The stars portray a light in the darkness, above all the destruction of war. This poem is of a Romantic time because it illustrates the celebration of love, but also notes the discrepancy between private and public moments through symbolic representation. Finally, the abrupt way that the poem ended emphasize that society tends to overtake individuals in society, but the vigil itself portrays the united stance that people can take even if it romanticizes the war.
Whereas Whitman portrayed lightness, following destruction, in his poem, Poe portrayed the darkness of the Romantic period as a whole. His work was associated with the subgenre Gothic literature. This subgenre included elements of emotion through ideas such as fear, isolation, illness, and superstitions. One of Poer’s most popular short-stories, The Tell-Tale Heart, captured the insane characteristic of the narrator through the concept of isolation. This individual was considered unique because he did not follow the mainstream societal views. This story, also, acknowledged the anxiety of society during this time period regarding the increasingly popular views that favored independence and individualism. Therefore, one of the most significant aspects of the narrator in The Tell-Tale Heart is the way that he is trapped within his mind, which portrays the fear of individualr’s standing out against society the internal self versus the external self. An example of the narratorr’s struggle with sanity, [V]ery, very dreadfully nervous I had been, and am I heard all things in heaven and in the earth observe how healthily- how calmly I can tell you the whole story (1186-87).
Right from the start, he contradicts himself by acknowledging how nervous he was, to hearing supernatural things, and then believing himself able to tell his story in a collected manner. Further, his reason for grotesquely murdering an innocent individual in this story was illogical. He claimed it was due to his eye! He had the eye of a vulture, and contrary idea that the man never wronged me. He had never given me an insult, the narrator still murdered him as though he had (1187). This establishes the sin in which an individual illustrated by being unique, or in the narratorr’s case, insane. His guilt overcame him by the end of the story which concluded in him confessing to his crime because he believed he was hearing the manr’s heartbeat under the boards. This represents societyr’s stance over an individual, which meant that it attempts to control the individual and oppress their uniqueness (sin).
Similar to the works of Whitman and Poe, Fanny Fern used her works to emphasize the need for individualism. However, her work A Law More Nice than Just, focused solely on acquiring womenr’s rights. In this way, she revealed the unequal, patriarchal society that dismissed womenr’s activism. She used humor to lighten controversial issues she exposed in her work. For example, in her column, she criticizes a recent news article that specifies a woman had just been arrested for wearing menr’s pants. She offers a humorous story in response about wearing her ?husbands pants because it was a lot easier in the rain. She states, Ill do it, said I Do what? asked Mr. Fern Put on a suit of your clothes and take a tramp with you (1216). She continues by emphasizing the husbandr’s hysterical laughter about the matter, which acted as a representation of the absurdity society felt about such direct change. This story acknowledged the unjustified laws that women encountered, showing that both should be considered equal. This story also showed that the laws reflected the customs of society, further acting on past stereotypes, as Fern tries to accomplish new standards for womenr’s independence.
Through each of these literary works, Whitman, Poe, and Fern all try to advocate individualism. They use them as a means to reflect on the relationship between the individual and society by suing emotional elements and imagination. Each represents that individuals have the ability to remove themselves from the restrictions that society poses on their attempts of social and independent change.
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