Frederick Douglass

“I now resolved that, however long I might remain a slave in form, the day had passed forever when I could be a slave in fact.” – Frederick Douglass

Although it seems being a slave “in form” and a slave “in fact” would be equivalent to each other, Douglass clarifies their disparities throughout his entire narrative. A slave “in form” would be exactly that, in form, meaning he physically is a slave, his body being legally owned by slave masters. However, after his fight with Covey, Douglass acknowledges how he has mentally liberated himself from being a slave “in fact”. His mentality has changed to that of a free man, and he has a moment of clarity, reflection, and self-realization. This would be regarded as the the birth of his self-conscious, where he comprehends that however long he is physically owned, he can always be mentally free.




Douglass, Emerson, and Whitman

Emerson continually perpetuated the idea that free thinking is the basis of knowledge. Institutions want us to conform to what they believe and teach, creating mass amounts of “bookworms,” or people who imitate the ideals of the book and never experience anything for themselves. This is significant in relation to Douglass because knowledge should be an expression of independence and freedom, whereas being a bookworm is a complete limitation. Douglass utilizes knowledge as an advantage and aspect of his prospective freedom. The information in the book was not as important as how it was interpreted.

Additionally, Whitman celebrates independence and freedom, especially in the manifestation of self-discovery and celebration of the “self.” In Song of Myself, Whitman writes:

“I CELEBRATE myself,
And what I assume you shall assume,
For every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you.”
Although he never directly mentions the restrictive and detrimental effects of slavery on society, he generalizes that “every atom belonging to me as good belongs to you,” which could be interpreted as an advocation for equality. All humans created from similar atoms are recognized as equals, and should be able to “celebrate” themselves, regardless of race, gender, religion, sexuality, etc. Douglass, not knowing his true origin or identity, would benefit from a celebration and discovery of himself which could be regarded as a form of freedom.

Whitman and Emerson

  1. “The first in time and the first in importance of the influences upon the mind is that of nature.”
  2. “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. And, in fine, the ancient precept, ‘Know thyself,’ and the modern precept, ‘Study nature,’ become at last one maxim.”

These two quotes from Emerson’s “The American Scholar,” emphasize the importance of man’s relationship with nature. The first quote explicitly states that the primary influence on the mind is nature. Whitman would agree with this quote; in “Leaves of Grass,” he explains that to be in nature is equivalent to being metaphorically “undisguised and naked.” This vulnerability guides man in his pursuit for self-realization, which is the ultimate influence on the mind. If you fulfill self-discovery, what is left is to develop original and authentic ideas, which is what Emerson encourages. The second quote demonstrates the interchangeable ideas of “know thyself” and “study nature.” Emerson maintains that the ignorance of nature is ignorance of qualities of yourself. Whitman would agree that to be acquainted with the “nakedness” of nature, is to be acquainted with yourself as well.

Into the Wild

Into the Wild is a non-fiction book by Jon Krakauer that was also developed into a film in 2007. It’s the story of Christopher McCandless, a recent college graduate who decides to deviate from a conventional lifestyle to travel into the Alaskan wilderness on his own. The film depicts his journey to get to Alaska, and some of his time actually spent near Denali National Park. He sets up camp in an abandoned bus, hunts and eats various wild animals, meets a myriad of eccentric characters, and documents his thoughts about his prospective journey.

Nature, as a thematic element, plays the most pivotal and transformative role. His struggles, both internal and external, are portrayed as a conflict between his journey for self-realization and what a “traditional” way of life is. Most of his thoughts are profoundly introspective, while others seek to analyze the closest people in his life. The protagonist feels disillusioned by society, and thinks by┬áliving a “minimalist” life in nature, he won’t be contributing to the troubles that plague modern civilization. In an unfortunate and ironic end, nature ultimately leads to Christopher’s demise.