Free The Concept of Masculinity across Transcendentalism, Romanticism and Realism Essay Sample

Similar to femininity, masculinity is one of the central concepts in the social sciences because it is directly related to social stereotypes and perceptions of female and male roles and ways of forming female and male identities. On the other hand, masculinity is the result of the influence of various social and historical characteristics of a separate period in the development of human culture. In this respect, it is necessary to recognize the various forms of interpretation of masculinity in the framework of such three periods as Romanticism, Transcendentalism and Realism. The study of the texts belonging to these periods, namely Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, Walt Whitman's Song of Myself, and Henry James' Daisy Miller, provides an overall picture of the development of the concept across these three periods. For Romanticism, masculinity is an individual desire for freedom and self-manifestation, Transcendentalism interprets masculinity as a work with ones own personal consciousness, while Realism shows the ambiguity of masculinity that cannot be reduced to the idea of a man as an exceptionally strong and active being.

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American Romanticism

Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn can be seen as a vivid example of understanding masculinity within the framework of American romanticism based on the idea of ??individual freedom and self-expression. The main heroes of this story are Huckleberry Finn and Jim and each of them pursues his unique ideal of freedom and self-expression. This freedom is specific to each of them because Huck Finn dreams of freedom in relation to his relatives, while for Jim, freedom is above all freedom from slavery. Mark Twain shows the injustice of the American dream towards those people who do not belong to the white race because racism is a barrier to equal rights and opportunities for all people. It can be stated that with individual freedom being a foundational value and theme in both American literature and the American dream, Twain writes a social critique of the idea of individual freedom by juxtaposing the idea of freedom against the institution of slavery and society. Romantic perception of masculinity implies the idea of spiritual and physical freedom, regardless of national or racial differences of a person (Romanticism). The understanding of masculinity within the development of personal identity is no less important as well.

For the two main characters, their journey along the Mississippi River plays an extremely important role in shaping their spiritual identities. Each of the characters seeks to acquire his own unique identity and in this respect, the adventures that occur with them contribute to the formation of their male identity and as a result of their masculinity. For example, Hucks desires are remarkably few and simple. His main goal is to break the fetters, the source of which is in his family ties. The prohibitions that his relatives establish are unacceptable for him and the joint escape with Jim is seen by Huck as a great opportunity to get rid of these shackles. His impulse is so strong that no obstacles can stop him on his way to the main goal. An analysis of this work provides an opportunity to see the direct influence of Romanticism on the notion of masculinity as a desire for self-expression and freedom. Despite the fact that Mark Twain shows the cruelty and injustice of social reality woven from various stereotypes and prejudices, this spiritual impulse is valued by him highly enough. The writer shows the value of the struggle for ones own freedom, which plays an immediate role in the formation of masculinity.

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The concept of masculinity within the framework of transcendentalism has a completely different character because it is based on the idea of the initial status of the individual I or Me having a rational character. The analysis of Walt Whitman's Song of Myself is a great opportunity to get acquainted with such a kind of masculinity, which has its theoretical foundations in one of the philosophical directions of Transcendentalism called Personalism. The main feature of this direction is that it focuses on the priority value of the individual self that is considered as the source of all knowledge (Transcendentalism: American Movement). This individual center is responsible for self-awareness and masculinity appears as the result of this self-awareness. A self that is a maker or creator cannot be accused of classical hubris. Man is thus seen as the creator of his individual self. Moreover, the whole surrounding world becomes dependent on this Me, as a result of the perception of the individual consciousness: in Section 48, Whitman explicitly states that "nothing, not God, is greater to one than one's self is". Man's self-consciousness organizes the world with his perceptions at the center, and this is Personalistic. However, not only God, but also nature is seen as dependent on ones consciousness. Thus, similar to God, the value of nature is that it can be perceived by individual consciousness.

Within the framework of transcendentalism, man is an active being and masculinity is directly connected with self-consciousness as an ability for self-reflection and reasonable intuition. As noted by the researchers, in transcendentalist philosophy intuition is clearly an important prerequisite of uniqueness and geniality. This feature is clearly seen in Walt Whitman's Song of Myself, which is permeated with a sense of inner uniqueness (Allen and Jeffares). In general, the influence of transcendentalism is strong enough as a phenomenon that has influenced various spheres of artistic perception of reality, such as literature, architecture, etc. Walt Whitman's Song of Myself is a sample of the psychological perception of masculinity as a result of rational self-awareness. Self-knowledge plays a key role as a basis that provides knowledge of oneself and one's own identity. In other words, masculinity is seen primarily as a result of the inner self- reflection placing the surrounding world in dependence on oneself.


The concept of masculinity within the framework of realism offers a different interpretation of masculinity as a phenomenon that can be ambiguous and multifaceted depending on various factors. An analysis of a number of texts written during this period allows seeing that not always the concept of masculinity is represented in the traditional form. In other words, it is about a realistic understanding of the phenomenon of masculinity as a phenomenon that depends on many factors and for this reason is not the result of the influence of standard stereotypes. This realistic understanding of masculinity makes it possible to recognize masculinity not only as strength, activity, endurance and even aggression but also as being able to be weak and sick. The concept of reality also has several definitions, but on the whole it is understood as the objective representation of contemporary social reality. Realistic perception of reality is an understanding of the conflict between the society and the individual, since the society imposes its limitations on the formation of identity, as well as masculinity and femininity.

This struggle is observed in Henry James' Daisy Miller where the author shows that the reality of modern society ignores the possible forms of femininity and masculinity by forcing people to follow certain standards. However, in particular, masculinity can have its own distinctive features in each individual case, including the ability to show weakness, passivity, etc. This confrontation between the individual and the public can lead to conflict. For this reason, concerning James' Daisy Miller it is fairly noted that this tension within Daisy Miller exposes the underlying moral paradox of realism, for if the self is social, what is the individual?. In other words, realistic consideration of gender representations is taking into account the confrontation between the individual perception of ones own gender identity and those standards that are established by society and considered to be compulsory for compliance. This understanding of the problem is traced in many works, which speaks of the indisputable influence of the ideas of Realism on the artistic perception of the author. Thus, within the framework of realism, masculinity appears as a critical rethinking of the gender potential of a man that depends on a number of factors, including social factors.


The comparative analysis of all three texts makes it possible to see different forms of understanding of masculinity within the framework of Romanticism, Transcendentalism and Realism, respectively. Romanticism manifests itself in the understanding of masculinity as a desire for freedom and self-expression. The main characters of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn are eager to gain spiritual and physical freedom in a society that suffers from various social stereotypes and prejudices. In turn, within the framework of Transcendentalism, masculinity appears as inner self-analysis and reflection. Walt Whitman's Song of Myself is an opportunity to see a particular confidence in the strength of the individual self, which is seen as a yardstick for the surrounding reality. In its turn, Henry James' Daisy Miller introduces a realistic understanding of masculinity as a phenomenon that does not necessarily follow generally accepted standards for gender differences between men and women. In the final analysis, one can see that the concept of masculinity has undergone a number of changes and has become more critical within the framework of Realism.


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