Margaret Fuller’s (Ossoli’s) Views, Essay Example
Fuller’s Views on Society
Margaret Fuller (Ossoli) was a famous author, thinker, publisher, and critic; she became widely known in the American literary circles due to her prominent, not typically feminine, education, and for being an avid literary and social critic. Fuller was a devoted Transcendentalist, which influenced her views on the society profoundly. First, it is necessary to note that the views of Fuller on the society were also synonymous to idealism, which is also typical for Transcendentalism – Fuller believed in the social equality of men and women, in the abolition of slavery, and in the social justice.
The key topic in Fuller’s discussion of her views on the society is the place of women in the American society of her time. Fuller was an active supporter of equality for men and women; she repeatedly noted the opportunities for the democratization of the women’s place in the USA given by the American revolution:
“It should be remarked that, as the principle of liberty is better understood, and more nobly interpreted, a broader protest is made in behalf of women. As men become aware that few have had a fair chance, they are inclined to say that no women have had a fair chance”.
Even during “Conversations” arranged by Fuller in Boston, which attracted more than 200 female students, Fuller managed to extend the outreach of her political and social agenda beyond the measure of plain empowerment of women in self-education, self-culture, and self-empowerment in the male-dominated society. As Smith noted, the “Conversations” extended to providing valuable discussions on the issues of slavery and women’s rights in the USA, which provided them with an increasingly political power.
Margaret Fuller’s views on the society also formed under the influence of her friends, young students of Harvard, such as James Freeman Clarke, Frederic Henry Hedge, etc., who were to become the leaders of the Unitarian church in the USA. Fuller was attracted by their ideas and fascination with the works of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, whose ideas actually lay the foundation of the American Transcendentalism. Fuller grew highly interested in Transcendentalism, and visited the meetings of the “Transcendentalist Club” during her stay in Concord, which made her the first woman accepted in the exclusively male intellectual society.
Transcendentalism to which Fuller was particularly apt originated in the 1830s in the USA as a reform movement headed by the Unitarian church, and moved forward the ideas about the indwelling God and the need for the intuitive thought as its key agenda. As Campbell admitted, Transcendentalists believed that the soul of every person is identical with the soul of the whole world, and that every personality contains everything the world contains. One of the leading representatives of Transcendentalism was Ralph Waldo Emerson, a close friend of Fuller; his work “Nature” became the motto of Transcendentalism, propagating the humble life in the woods, and the modest subordination to the rules of nature. Hence, Fuller as a true proponent of Transcendentalism also favored the establishment of a peaceful, harmonious, and naturalistic society, though did not join any group of Transcendentalists regarding the ways in which the social change should be undertaken.
In the 1840s, Fuller’s political views became more and more distinct. Though Fuller did not join any of the debating Transcendentalist groups in her standpoint regarding the social reform, the publication of her work “The Great Lawsuit: Man vs. Men and Woman vs. Women” in 1843 sharply delineated her opinion on the key political and social issues. As Smith noted,
“Fuller pointed out that while these ideals did not yet apply to women, African Americans, and Native Americans, Americans had a “special mission” to strive toward a just social system — and to assist others in the world who were initiating their own revolutions. Human freedom was a right, she asserted”
Among Fuller’s views on the society, one should also note her active struggle for the Transcendentalist peace and harmony; in her social commentaries published in mass media, Fuller condemned the approaching war with Mexico, disapproved of the annexation of Texas, and surely condemned slavery. Fuller was actively and openly against the American imperialism, and made numerous attempts to subvert the American expansionist messages distributed across the media to the nation.
However, despite the extensive public work and social activity, Margaret Fuller Ossoli should be credited first of all for her extensive work for the protection of the equality between men and women. It was a revolutionary standpoint that did not find an immediate response from the masses. Nevertheless, Fuller was highly optimistic about the better times for women, and was sure that the universal recognition of a woman’s right to education, to intellectual development, etc. was a matter of time. In her work .., Fuller noted,
“We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to Woman as freely as to Man. Were this done, and a slight temporary fermentation allowed to subside, we should see crystallizations more pure and of more various beauty. We believe the divine energy would pervade nature to a degree unknown in the history of former ages, and that no discordant collision, but a ravishing harmony of the spheres, would ensue.”
Hence, Fuller has been credited as the first American feminist, and her works laid a sound foundation for women’s further fight for recognition, equality, and freedom in the USA. When staying in Europe in the 1840s, Margaret Fuller married the Italian fighter for freedom Angelo Ossoli. Her husband’s political and social views also affected Fuller’s vision of the society, which resulted in her change of views to socialism. Fuller began propagating Socialists propagated the virtue of collective existence; people should act cooperatively in the pursuit of mutual reinforcement and spiritual growth.
Fuller’s Views on Social Contract
Since Fuller was a transcendentalist, she held highly negative views regarding the social contract and the power of the state over its citizens. It is noteworthy that Transcendentalists denounced the very existence of the social contract as a form of passing the power over a person’s freedom to a ruler. Transcendentalists believed in the unique power of the individual, and relied on the natural law almost exclusively. Hence, there was no room for the legitimate power of any authority limiting in any way; Transcendentalists practiced the life in a naturalistic way, without any supplies, without any help of the technological innovations and discoveries of their life. Hence, Fuller was a democrat who revealed the moderate attraction by the views on the total freedom of people, but still noted the need for liberty and equality, the need to abolish slavery and provide all people in the USA with the equal opportunities for development, advancement, and arrangement of their life.
Fuller sustained the Transcendentalist idealism regarding the social contract views, believing that it was the natural goal of any democratic state to make its people free and happy, provided with the whole spectrum of human rights, and enjoying the unlimited, uncontrolled development. For this reason, many of Fuller’s views are considered utopian. However, as soon as Fuller moved to Europe and married Angelo Ossoli, the Italian fighter for the human rights, she changed her views considerably, taking the side of socialists. In the opinion of socialists, private property was an evil, and all people should enjoy the common property of their state. They also were proponents of a stricter social contract, “a well-ordered society cannot exist without a state apparatus, not least because the state is seen as the most effective vehicle for coordinating and administering to the needs of all”. Hence, Fuller also became the proponent of the social contract under the socialist principles.
One should note that the meaning of socialism in the 1830s and later on in Europe differed significantly from what was propagated in the Soviet Union in the 20th century. Thus, the European socialist thinkers were distinguished by their emphasis on the creation of a new social order in their societies, which would rest on the economic and social conception of human rights. The present vision differed greatly from the dominant monarchist rule that prevailed in Europe in the first half of the 19th century. Hence, socialists were juxtaposed to the proponents of the individual initiative in the sense of promoting the social system opposite to that of favoring the laissez faire economics.
Fuller’s Views on Education
It is notable that Margaret Fuller differed fundamentally from all women of her time, since the women in the early 19th century rarely got much education, and rarely enjoyed such freedom of thought and speech in the traditional, male-dominated society. Her father, Timothy Fuller, became widely known for encouraging his daughter’s education; he taught Margaret the logical thought process, which was indeed exclusive at the times of her life. Hence, the unusual process of Margaret’s education attracted much attention, since she was provided by the severe model of the intellectual attainment, a model that violated all perceptions and beliefs about gender roles in the early 1820s and 1830s.
Margaret Fuller was an avid learner, and she already knew Latin at the age of six, and Greek – at the age of ten. One more significant contribution to the education of Fuller was her extensive reading experience:
“Fuller had to memorize daily passages from Virgil and recite up to 500 lines a week. From Virgil and studying Cicero, Fuller went to reading Plutarch. This is an example of an intense but disappointed father and a strong willed and gifted child. She was scolded for reading “Romeo & Juliet” on a Sunday when she was eight years old. She really didn’t care about the scolding because she was so absorbed in the story”.
The present experience made Fuller fully aware of the value that reading could add to the person’s education. One of Fuller’s famous quotes states: “Today a reader, tomorrow a leader”. The present opinion proves that Fuller was of exceptionally high opinion about reading as a part of the educational experience, and she recommended reading to all people, both well-educated and uneducated. Even if some person had no access to formal education, he or she could access the universal body of knowledge through reading, which was intensely propagated by Fuller as a proponent of overall enlightenment as a path to social consciousness and activity.
Many of Fuller’s views on education were shaped by her acquaintances acquired during her studies in Harvard, Cambridge, and Boston; for instance, Ralph Waldo Emerson influenced the views of Margaret Fuller on education significantly:
“While Fuller waited for Alcott’s job offer, she decided to move to Boston to start language and literature classes for women in German, Italian, and French. Before she left Concord, Emerson “kindly” identified “lapses” in her education. He steered Fuller toward the German and British philosophers and writers she would have studied if she had been able to attend college”.
This way, as one can see, Fuller was a lifelong learner, and even despite the fact that her father sometimes imposed excessive demands for her education, and required too much at her age, Fuller did not lose her enthusiasm regarding education, and continued to pursue the path of self-education after her father’s death.
Fuller believed that no family could afford ignoring the potential of education. Hence, Fuller claimed that all people should host the opportunities for spiritual, intellectual, and educational development of people. Fuller believed in the enormous potential of any person, and considered the intellectual capabilities unlimited, but rarely used to the fullest possible extent:
“All around us lies what we neither understand nor use. Our capacities, our instincts for this our present sphere are but half developed. Let us confine ourselves to that till the lesson be learned; let us be completely natural; before we trouble ourselves with the supernatural. I never see any of these things but I long to get away and lie under a green tree and let the wind blow on me. There is marvel and charm enough in that for me.”
One should note that Fuller was not only a theoretical propagator of learning and education; throughout her life, Margaret Fuller was actively involved in delivering education, specifically to women who had very few educational opportunities in the male-dominated society of the US at the beginning of the 19th century. Upon her return to Boston after her studies, Fuller decided to hold “Conversations” for women at Elizabeth Peabody’s bookstore on West Street; Margaret did not pursue any political goals, but was rather interested in identifying the purpose of women’s lives and origin, as well as the ways in which women could achieve more in their lives. Fuller’s educational views were also embodied in her publishing and editorial work, as well as in her literary criticism. In this context, Fuller worked actively in the field of democratic criticism, and proliferated the ideals of liberty and equality in the USA. Fuller pointed out that the features of greed, materialism, and the expansionist motives over the North American continent caused a serious threat to the mentioned ideals, and pointed out that the creation and origin of the democratic American nation was based on the recognition of the universal human rights, and not on the striving to dominate other nations by force.
Fuller’s Views on the American Character Identity
As many other authors of that period, Margaret Fuller’s literary career was at its peak during the serious national identity crisis in the USA in the 1940s. The key question underlying that crisis was the debate about the need for American literary independence from the English tradition, as well as the US responsibility for the foreign revolutionaries.
According to the opinion of Beste, Fuller’s key approach to the definition of the American character identity was that of promoting and encouraging self-culture:
“she defined self-culture in terms of collective and individual experience and this broad definition served her vision of reform throughout her career. While Fuller wrote on social and political issues such as women’s rights, slavery, and the government’s treatment of Native Americans, she was not especially concerned with politics or oppression based on race, class, or gender. Her persistent concern was the belief that American culture was best served by the influence of the self-cultivated individual”.
As Smith noted, Fuller was very active in the redefinition of the role of the national American character in the 1840s, since the nation struggled with the adoption of several contradicting viewpoints, and there was much indecisiveness regarding the future direction of the American nation. The nation witnessed many expansionist and imperialist messages inciting the people to conquer Mexico, to oppress the Native Americans, and to expand their dominance over the whole North American continent. In the opinion of Fuller, it was a wrong course of action for the American nation based on the principles of liberty and equality, and fighting for its independence from the British Crown for the sake of establishing democracy and autonomy fostering the free will. Hence, Fuller did not approve of the political course of imperialism and expansionism:
“She proposed a view of the self-made American that opposed materialism and promoted idealism about individual and collective intellectual experience in America. Fuller’s view of the self-cultivated individual fits within the tradition of American exceptionalism; however, she promoted a vision of the self-made American as well-educated, thoughtful, and tolerant of differing points of view”.
Margaret Fuller was also a proponent of the idea that the USA had a unique, millennial mission to show other nations the example of a cultivated, democratic nation managing to exist under the conditions of democracy in the 19th century, the time of imperialism and monarchies. Hence, Fuller pursued her idealistic ideas regarding the national identity of Americans, calling people not to pursue materialism and greed, but to work on the establishment and strengthening of the principles of freedom, liberty, and justice in the USA.
Bonnie Hurd Smith. 2009. ““Why Margaret Fuller Matters” Traveling Display”. Margaretfuller.org. http://www.margaretfuller.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=89&Itemid=97&showall=1. (accessed September 26, 2012).
Donna M. Campbell. 2010. “American Transcendentalism”. Literary Movements. Dept. of English, Washington State University. http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/amtrans.htm. (accessed September 26, 2012).
Lori Anne Beste. 2006. “Margaret Fuller on national culture: Political idealism through self-culture”. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. http://gradworks.umi.com/32/05/3205745.html. (accessed September 26, 2012).
Paul P. Reuben. 2011. “Chapter 4: Sarah Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)”. PAL: Perspectives in American Literature – A Research and Reference Guide – An Ongoing Project. http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap4/fuller.html. (accessed September 26, 2012).
Sarah Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes in 1843 (Rockville, Arc Manor LLC), 91.
Sarah Margaret Fuller, “Woman in the Nineteenth Century”, part 1. The Project Gutenberg EBook. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/8642/8642-h/8642-h.htm. (accessed September 26, 2012).
“Socialism – Industrial Revolution And The Rise Of Socialism, Utopian Socialists: Owen, Saint-simon, Fourier”. 2012. http://science.jrank.org/pages/8088/Socialism.html. (accessed September 26, 2012).
 Paul P. Reuben. 2011. “Chapter 4: Sarah Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)”. PAL: Perspectives in American Literature – A Research and Reference Guide – An Ongoing Project. http://www.csustan.edu/english/reuben/pal/chap4/fuller.html. (accessed September 26, 2012).
 Sarah Margaret Fuller, “Woman in the Nineteenth Century”, part 1. The Project Gutenberg EBook. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/8642/8642-h/8642-h.htm. (accessed September 26, 2012).
 Bonnie Hurd Smith. 2009. ““Why Margaret Fuller Matters” Traveling Display”. Margaretfuller.org. http://www.margaretfuller.org/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=89&Itemid=97&showall=1. (accessed September 26, 2012).
 Donna M. Campbell. 2010. “American Transcendentalism”. Literary Movements. Dept. of English, Washington State University. http://public.wsu.edu/~campbelld/amlit/amtrans.htm. (accessed September 26, 2012).
 Smith, “Why Margaret Fuller Matters” Traveling Display”.
 “Socialism – Industrial Revolution And The Rise Of Socialism, Utopian Socialists: Owen, Saint-simon, Fourier”. 2012. http://science.jrank.org/pages/8088/Socialism.html. (accessed September 26, 2012).
 Smith, ““Why Margaret Fuller Matters” Traveling Display”.
 “Socialism – Industrial Revolution And The Rise Of Socialism, Utopian Socialists: Owen, Saint-simon, Fourier”.
 Reuben, “Chapter 4: Sarah Margaret Fuller (1810-1850)”.
 Fuller, “Woman in the Nineteenth Century”, part 1.
 Smith, ““Why Margaret Fuller Matters” Traveling Display”.
 Sarah Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes in 1843 (Rockville, Arc Manor LLC), 91.
 Smith, ““Why Margaret Fuller Matters” Traveling Display”.
 Lori Anne Beste. 2006. “Margaret Fuller on national culture: Political idealism through self-culture”. ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. http://gradworks.umi.com/32/05/3205745.html. (accessed September 26, 2012).
 Beste, “Margaret Fuller on national culture: Political idealism through self-culture”.
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