Essay about Transcendentalism: Henry David Thoreau and Crawford

Submitted By 07_Ghost
Words: 1282
Pages: 6

Zora Neale Hurston’s novel, Their Eyes Were Watching God, details the struggle of Jane Crawford’s life to pursue her quest for identity, and to find out what love truly is. This journey coincides the philosophy of Transcendentalism, which stresses emphasis on the individual, and emotion over reason. Despite Jane’s hardships throughout the story, she doesn’t forget her aspirations and what she truly believes in. These same principles are reflected in both Ralph Waldo Emerson’s, “Self-Reliance”, and in Henry David Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience”. As a result, the story portrays her journey, fighting against societal norms and creating who she is. Their Eyes Were Watching God reflects the transcendentalist elements of strong individuality, emotion over reason, and the rejection of societal norms. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s, “Self-Reliance”, defines how important it is to stress the role of the individual. “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” (Emerson 80). This is best seen in the quote “… she liked being lonesome for a change. This freedom feeling was fine. These men didn’t represent a thing she wanted to know about. She had already experienced them through Logan and Joe. She felt like slapping some of them for sitting around grinning at her like a pack of chessy cats, trying to make out they looked like love.” (Hurston 90). The independence that she gets from being free from any men is a liberating feeling which she enjoys. Because her past two marriages ended in failures, being alone was a change that ultimately made her life better. What this quote stresses is independence and individuality. Crawford does not want to follow in the footsteps of another man but would want to stand equal to him. This idea relates to an idea from Thoreau’s “On Civil Disobedience”. “Must the citizen ever for a moment, or in the least degree, resign his conscience to the legislator… The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right” (Thoreau 92) While there is no government that ties Crawford down or imposes restrictions, the “ruling body” in her case would be both Logan and Joe, who didn’t let her do as she wanted, and criticized her for following what she felt right. Consequently, she left both of them as she deemed that to be the best action in accordance to her interests. Inversely, “If a plant cannot live according to its nature, it dies; and so a man.” (Thoreau 104) Essentially, had Crawford not done what she felt was right, she would wither away and eventually die a life which she never really lived. In the end, the decision to leave her husbands reflects how she follows her own heart, her own ways, and living as an individual. Another aspect of transcendentalism is the emphasis on emotion over reason, or in Crawford’s case, love over logic. This is first seen with Logan Killicks. Even though her grandmother wished for her to marry a rich man so that she wouldn’t need to struggle in the world and could enjoy economic stability, she didn’t think it was worth it. At first she believed that her marriage with Logan would lead her to love him, but it didn’t work out. Logan’s bland character type didn’t sit well with Crawford. “The vision of Logan Killicks was desecrating the pear tree but Janie didn’t know how to tell Nanny that. She merely hunched over and pouted at the floor.” (Hurston 14) What this means is that despite the social stability that Logan would bring, she does not want to stay with him. Instead, she wants to stick to her view of love, an experience set under a pear tree. Essentially, this lines up with Emerson’s view of the individual where he says that “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” (Emerson 78) This is because Crawford sticks to what her instincts are, instead of caving in to the wishes or her nanny. The end result is that Crawford leaves Logan for Joe Starks. “He was very solemn and helped her to the seat beside him. With him on it,