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Dead Poets Society: The Influence Of Transcendental Thinking

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Dead Poets Society: The Influence of Transcendental Thinking Transcendental thinking has an extremely empowering and influential effect upon whoever listens to its teachings. Transcendental thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau greatly influence three main characters from Dead Poets Society. The movie Dead Poets Society reveals the influence of transcendental thinking on the lives of Todd Anderson, Charlie Dalton and Neil Perry through the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and other Romantics.

Todd Anderson is a reserved, timid boy who, at first, shies away from Mr. Keating’s teachings. Emerson’s quote “We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents” is fitting, because Todd keeps to himself so much and is so afraid to express the divinity that God has given him, that the very thought of writing a poem, as Keating says, scares “the hell out of him”. However, when Mr. Keating calls him up to “yawp” and describe what he sees in Walt Whitman’s face in a picture, his poetic and creatively expressive side is uncovered. Emerson’s quote “None but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried” can be directly linked to the previously mentioned situation and also when Todd decides to stand on his desk and disobey the headmaster’s rules as a tribute to Mr. Keating. Todd’s spontaneity, his sudden outburst of emotions and refusal to conform to the startled and enraged headmaster’s orders reveal at this time the powerful influence that Transcendental thinking has had on him.

The quote from Thoreau that could be used for Neil Perry is: “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them”. Neil loves to act, and he has heart set on pursuing his dreams of acting. The only factor keeping Neil from building the ladder to reach his dreams is his father, who insists that he is throwing away his future with “this silly acting business” and should instead go to military school, attend Harvard for ten years and become a doctor.

Neil is influenced by Transcendental thinking when he becomes optimistic about his father listening to him for once about his passion for acting and permitting him stay in the play, which he does. Another example is when Neil’s emotions momentarily burst forth spontaneously to defend his love for acting, when he is being grilled by his father, insisting that he not waste his time on it at the expense of other, more lucrative opportunities. Nevertheless, Neil’s suicide is not influenced by Transcendental thinking because it is apparent he was not optimistic of the possible turnout of his situation later on and instead decided to commit suicide and take the easy way out.

Emerson’s quote “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist” is proper in Charlie Dalton’s case because he is the most unique, creative, and ornery individual of all the members in the Dead Poets Society. He is heavily influenced by Transcendental thinking and the Latin phrase “Carpe diem” (seize the day). Charlie transforms from a bored, nonchalant boy to a non-conforming, optimistic and daring person who renames himself Newanda. His spontaneity causes him to unexpectedly bring two girls to a Society meeting and declare that he has slipped in an article on behalf of the Dead Poets Society in the school newspaper demanding that girls be accepted into Welton Academy.

He also becomes terribly spontaneous and daring and does not rationally consider the consequences of “seizing the day” and pulling the stunt of God calling and telling the headmaster that girls should be allowed to attend Welton. At this point, the quote “Speak what you think now in hard words and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, even though it contradict everything you said today” from Emerson is a powerful echo of what Charlie has done: expressed his opinions for what he strongly believed in and stood up for it.

The influence of Transcendental thinking is extremely powerful to the open-minded. Non-conformity, optimism, spontaneity, and emotions are a few of the qualities of Transcendental thinkers. In Dead Poets Society, Todd Anderson, Neil Perry and Charlie Dalton were influenced by Transcendental thinking in some way to make some important decisions in their lives that contributed to the ending of the film.

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