Social Constructs and Symbolism in A Noiseless Patient Spider

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a prolific writer of the Transcendental era, suggests that American democracy should progress through the individual part of a whole opposed to the largely popular idea that it takes a group of many. In his address titled “The American Scholar,” Emerson hopes to obstruct the present American democracy “in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters, — a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man,” and trade it for the Transcendental view of democracy (Emerson 811). Obviously, a finger nor an elbow would be able to act accordingly without the solidity of their common body in working function, much like a “planter” and/or “tradesman” cannot become successful until after they acknowledge their being a part of a unified body (Emerson 812).

While Emerson addresses the individual’s part of a whole, he also attempts to outline the key elements for the development of the individual American Scholar. In his attempt to layout the functions of individuality, he uses the natural world in a way that connects to the individual’s mindset. Emerson attempts to showcase that through observation of the natural world, the American scholar “shall see, that nature is the opposite of the soul, answering to it part for part. One is seal, and one is print. Its beauty is the beauty of his own mind. Its laws are the laws of his own mind. Nature then becomes to him the measure of his attainments. So much of nature as he is ignorant of, so much of his own mind does he not yet possess” (Emerson 813). It seems as though Emerson believed that the American scholar should put an emphasis on nature to acquire a deeper comprehension: “And, in fine, the ancient precept, ‘Know thyself,’ and the modern precept, ‘study nature,’ become at last one maxim” (Emerson 813). For an individual to help America progress towards a more accurate democracy, they should use nature and its intricacies to have a better understanding of the commonalities inborn to all humans.

Walt Whitman, a now beloved poetic rule-breaker, was not so beloved in his time of writing. Whitman broke many conventions in the world of American literature, from the images he published of himself, to the reviews he wrote for his own poetry, he portrayed himself to be a common man amidst a world of prestigious writers. Specifically, the portrait of Whitman engraved in Leaves of Grass shows him standing relaxed with a hand on his hip wearing informal attire, as if he had just gotten home from a long day’s work in the field. Said image was different from other writers of the time, such as Herman Melville, whose portrait was formally posed accompanied by a fancy suit and bowtie. To add to his persona of the workingman, he submitted many self-made reviews, one of which refers to the portrait in Leaves of Grass as “One of the roughs, his costume manly and free, his face sunburnt and bearded, his posture strong and erect” (Belasco and Johnson, 1389).

Whitman’s style of writing was that of free-verse, a style not commonly used in the world of poetry at that time. While Whitman was writing in a style lacking in both meter and rhyme, other (more accepted) poets at the time, such as Elizabeth Oakes Smith, were writing in favorable rhyme and rhythm. Not only was Whitman’s style different than that of other poets, the content within his poems were viewed as obscure and vulgar. Being that most poems of the time were covering topics such as religious guidance, the wholesome and virtuous person, and the importance of humility, Whitman’s emphasis on the individual, his openness with sexuality, and his concern with promoting a nonconforming society resulted in an uproar in the poetry community. For example, he showcases the idea that a person should experience things for themselves before conforming, as he wrote, “You shall not look through my eyes either, nor take things from me, / You shall listen to all sides and filter them from your self” (Whitman 1394).

The aspect of Whitman’s writing that many viewed to be the most outlandish at the time was the sexual nature in which he sometimes addressed humans, for example, in Leaves of Grass he wrote, “Through me forbidden voices, / Voices of sexes and lusts, voices veil’s and I remove the veil, / Voices indecent by me clarified and transfigur’d” (Whitman 1410). While Whitman is viewed today as a beloved and forward-thinking individual, at the time his poems were published, he was nowhere near adoration due to his progressive ideals portrayed in his writing.

While Emily Dickinson was able to showcase her reservations toward many different social constructs, one common confliction that prevailed was that of religion. In Dickinson’s poem 1545 [1577], “The Bible is an antique Volume,” she questions society’s blind following of Christianity through many short satirical phrases. In the first line, Dickinson refers to the Bible as “an antique volume,” setting the tone for the rest of the poem. In referring to the Bible as “antique,” she is suggesting that it is outdated, and ultimately no longer relatable to the present reader (Dickinson, line 1). Moving forward, the next couple of lines are meant to question the validity of many Biblical figures. In the second and third lines, Dickinson says, “Written by faded Men / At the suggestion of Holy Spectres –” again emphasizing that the writers of the Bible are “faded,” or outdated (Dickinson, lines 2-3). Dickinson also suggests that the men who wrote the Bible were given orders on what to write without experiencing what they were writing about for themselves.

Dickinson references a couple prominent names from the Bible, for example, “Satan—the Brigadier,” alluding to Satan’s sinful temptation for Eve to eat the forbidden fruit which ultimately led to man’s “distinguished Precipice” (Dickinson, line 6). In lines 11 and 12, Dickinson says, “Boys that ‘believe’ are very lonesome — / Other Boys are ‘lost,’–” referring to the followers of Christianity as “boys” which suggests that they are naïve or immature. Further, her using the words “lost” and “lonesome” are meant to showcase that the followers do not know what to believe, and they are “lost” because they do not know if they should follow sin, like others, or if they should continue following their faith. In using those lines, Dickinson shows that even the people following organized religion are still “lost” and “lonesome.” Finally, the last two lines, “Orpheus’ Sermon captivated / It did not condemn,” make reference to Orpheus who would captivate all things with song, ultimately suggesting a sermon of the like would make a better preacher than the “antique men” who want to take control of what the Bible means (Dickinson, lines 15-16). The lines also point to Dickinson’s anger towards Christianity’s heavy focus on condemning people for their sins.

Walt Whitman’s new sign is: The Platypus. Like the Platypus, Whitman is a rare breed. The Platypus goes against the grain in many ways, such as its odd ability to lay eggs, something contradictory of other mammals. Not to mention, the Platypus is a shock to the eye with its paddle-shaped tail like a beaver, a sleek yet furry body like an otter, and its flat bill and webbed feet like a duck. Like the Platypus, Whitman’s portrait in Leaves of Grass is also a shock to the eye as he is informally dressed and standing in a relaxed way with his hand nonchalantly on his hip. People born under this sign have the following characteristics: nonconforming, openly express their thoughts and feelings, confident in their ideals, entrepreneurial, progressive, ambitious, determined, and dedicated. People born under this sign have a tendency to: shock the world with their uniqueness, put forth all efforts until their goals are achieved, naturally lead others, advocate for freedom of thought, not allow anything or anyone to get in the way once they have committed to a goal, concern themselves with an attempt to foster the appearance of success and self-satisfaction, and to showcase their creativity and originality widespread.

People born under this sign tend to struggle with: determination and dedication turning into stubbornness, clinging to ideas and/or projects past their time, passion turning into short-tempered anger, selfishness, being told what to do by others, stress created by drive, and allowing pride and/or overconfidence drive their actions too often. While the subject in both given poems is a spider, the depictions differ in many ways. Whitman’s spider is referred to as a “noiseless, patient spider, / I mark’d, where, on a little promontory, it stood isolated;” creating a lonely and dark portrayal of a spider lonesome, hanging off a cliff. To further add to the portrayal of his lonely spider, he also says, “Surrounded, surrounded, in measureless oceans of space.” Dickinson, on the other hand, gives an image of a spider “dancing softly to Himself,” and while this aligns with Whitman’s suggestion that the spider in his poem is alone, the spider here is dancing which is more of a pleasant image. Whitman suggests his spider “launch’d forth filament, filament, filament, out of itself;” which seems to be more aggressively outreaching in opposition to the delicate way Dickinson’s spider’s “Yarn of Pearl –unwinds–,” giving an almost magical sense to Dickinson’s spider.

Both poets use the spider as a metaphor for either themselves or an artist in general. Whitman references his soul, bringing together the idea that the spider represents his efforts to connect with others. Whitman writes, “Ceaselessly musing, venturing, throwing, –seeking the spheres, to connect them;” suggesting that he has gone to many great lengths to find a way to connect with his readers, if it wasn’t possible in one context, he tries another. Dickinson’s spider, as mentioned above, has been portrayed as a type of sorcerer, casting his web as it seems to anchor itself on nothing, from “nought to nought,” her spider’s “yarn” so delicate it seems “unsubstantial,” suggesting that the artist feels like their work is viewed in that way as well, delicate and anchored in nothing. Although small, like a spider, the web that is weaved is substantial and quickly put together to create a beautiful outcome, one that is worth more than the little amount they receive for their art, as suggested when she writes, “In unsubstantial Trade– / Supplants our Tapestries with His– / in half the period–.” Whitman insists he will not stop attempting to make connections with his readers, when he writes “Till the bridge you will need, be form’d—till the ductile anchor hold; / Till the gossamer thread you fling, catch somewhere, O my soul.” Like the spider’s web, an artist’s work may be brushed aside by the “broom”, but they will then create their art outside of their own territory, or “boundaries.”


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