The transcendental movement arose in the early nineteenth century. This literary, political, and
philosophical movement was, and still continues to be, closely associated with Emerson,
Thoreau and Whitman. Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman were extremely intellectual men of their
time and are now the figureheads of transcendentalism. In the simplest terms, to “transcend”
means to rise above and beyond the norms of society not physically, but mentally.
Transcendentalists, such as Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman, believed that for one to
determine the ultimate reality of God, the universe, and the self, one had to transcend everyday
human experiences. Ideas that form the basis of transcendentalism are still continuously being
used today in popular culture, such as in films. One instance of a modern text in which the
aspects of transcendentalism are incorporated extensively is the film, Dead Poets Society. The
film shows that transcending and wanting to make change for the better is in and of itself
something positive. However, it becomes evident during various scenes in the movie, and most
clearly at the end, that rising above the norm leads to neither anything good nor positive.
Throughout the movie, Dead Poets Society, many key and fundamental elements of
transcendentalism are presented in a way which shows a new light on the ideas of
transcendentalism and its place in modern-day society, or better yet, its lack of place.
Many of the transcendentalist concepts stressed by Emerson, Thoreau and Whitman are
in one way or another integrated into the plot of Dead Poets Society. The central character in
this film and the reflection of transcendental values is John Keating. Mr. Keating is the new
English teacher at Welton Academy. Mr. Keating shares a similar viewpoint as Emerson,
Thoreau and Whitman, for he places an emphasis on the individual, which self-reliance and
non-conformity are expected of. He believes that education’s purpose is not to enforce students
to have a certain thinking, but to guide them in a way that allows them to think for themselves.
The headmaster, on the other hand, symbolizes conformity. He replies to Mr. Keating by saying,
“Tradition, John. Discipline. Prepare them for college and the rest will take care of itself.” He,
without a doubt, can be seen as a modern-day representation of Emerson, Thoreau and
Whitman. A famous quote by Emerson, in his essay entitled “Nature,” that gives a great look
into Emerson’s view of transcending is, “I become a transparent eyeball; I am nothing; I see all;
the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part of...