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"Hamlet",  "Candide" and  “Song of Myself | Literature Essay Example

Jun 4, 2020 at Literature Essays

Walt Whitman “Song of Myself”

Walt Whitman is a famous American poet and essayist. The “Song of Myself” is the most significant part of his legacy and the work of great value, which played an important role in the history of world literature. Nature is one of the main motifs of the poem. Humanity in Whitman’s “Song of Myself” is not only an inextricable component of nature but a part of it. It is not important whether people see the divinity and beauty of nature, spend time enjoying it, or live in cities and devote their lives to making money? the laws of nature have control over them. The vision of a person as a part of nature and the infinity and beauty of the universe is the main element of Whitman’s conception of the “self.” This essay describes the pantheistic vision of nature in Whitman’s “Song of Myself.”

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Nature is one of the main motifs of Whitman’s poetry, and throughout his life it experiences transformations. At first, Whitman admires nature with its beauty and power: he turns to nature with an aim to find harmony and happiness. In the “Song of Myself,” nature is more important. Whitman’s conception of pantheism of nature resembles a philosophical theory, an attempt to create a new religion. According to Whitman, nature is a deity that rules the world, but, at the same time, everything in the world is a part of nature: “My tongue, every atom of my blood, form'd from this soil, this air.” This quote proves that the poet sees no difference between people and the natural world because they are a part of the universe. Whitman’s philosophy of pantheism is connected with universalism, which states that the universe is integral and individual happiness is impossible without harmony with the other aspects of life. This statement is another major motif of the “Song of Myself”: “The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along with the fields and hill-sides.” This quote shows that the rush of the street also makes the poet happy. For a person who is unaware of Whitman’s universalism, it might sound strange, because the majority of people bear in mind the supposition of cities and the natural world, but Whitman makes no distinction between them. Both civilizations and nature could make a person happy because they represent the beauty and divinity of life.

Whitman sees no reason to make the difference between those who live in cities, works in factories, and those who live among nature because all people are ruled by the universal laws of nature. The poet explains this referring to such themes as life, death, love, and the interconnection of all manifestations of life: “Urge and urge and urge, Always the procreant urge of the world. Out of the dimness opposite equals advance, always substance and increase, always sex, Always a knit of identity, always distinction, always a breed of life.” Whitman shows that many things change throughout the history of human civilization but in the world of nature very little experiences transformations. Human creatures also live according to the rules of nature and they cannot change it. Whitman in the “Song of Myself” often refers to life and death, and his vision of these aspects of life is rather philosophical. Death is not seen by him as something tragic, because, after death, people continue to be part of the universe: “Has anyone supposed it lucky to be born? I hasten to inform him or her it is just as lucky to die, and I know it. I pass death with the dying and birth with the new washed babe, and am not contain'd between my hat and boots.” The newborn babies are made of the same atoms as the old people, which means that nature knows no death? there are only countless transformations. Whitman observes life in all its aspects describing even such unappealing things as wounds, suicides, and corpses. Nevertheless, the poet also defines his “self.” He lists the historical events and those things which are usually important in the public and social life and concludes: “These come to me days and nights and go from me again, But they are not the Me myself. Apart from the pulling and hauling stands what I am.” These words show that nature and its universal laws are a major part of Whitman’s conception of the “self.”

In conclusion, nature is one of the most important motifs of Whitman’s “Song of Myself.” Nevertheless, the poet does not only contemplate it but creates a philosophical system of pantheism of nature. In the “Song of Myself,” nature is a deity worshipped by Whitman. He also introduces the concept of universalism, which means that all people are interconnected with each other and with all life in the universe. Whitman neither creates the supposition between nature and civilization nor encourages people to stop making attempts to come over nature. He enjoys life in all its aspects. Whitman is happy both in the busy city and among the quite fields because he understands that all material is transient. The time influences the life of people, the progress of civilizations, but in the natural world, almost nothing changes. According to Whitman, people are an inextricable part of it. The poet defines his “self” as something beyond the vanity of those who do not understand the universal rules of nature even though these rules are so powerful that people cannot change them.

Voltaire Candide

Candide is a satire written by a French philosopher Voltaire and is one of his most widely known works. The leitmotif of Candide is the critic of Leibniz’s theory of optimism although Voltaire also condemns and criticizes many other aspects of life, for example, governments, religion, metaphysics, etc. Nevertheless, the book provides no conception which might explain the nature of evil, its origin, and the role it plays in the universe. Perhaps, the philosopher simply did not know the answers to these questions, and it is not surprising, because they are the eternal problems that all philosophers of all times are trying to solve. Various solutions have been suggested, but none of them can be considered as the only one correct. This essay suggests that Candide refuses to rationalize the existence of evil because the main purpose of the satire is to provide criticism for Leibniz’s optimism. Moreover, rationalizing the evil is a difficult task, which does not have a single answer, and Voltaire might not want to guess.

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Candide may be called an ethical dilemma. Voltaire introduces the conception of optimism and shows the inefficiency of this conception. Candide is a young man who believes that "all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds," because is teacher Pangloss said to him this. Candide finds it easy to believe in Pangloss’s theory while living in the “magnificent castle,” but after living the castle he faces the world full of evil things and people. Voltaire exaggerates the number of misfortunes and disasters in the life of Candide and his friends to show that not always “all is for the best.” The philosopher shows that life is sometimes so cruel and unfair that even the most convinced optimists cannot change their opinions. The essence of the dilemma is how to live in a world where there is so much evil that comes not only from nature as, for example, the earthquake but mainly from the other individuals who are corrupted. According to Voltaire, people themselves are the main source of evil even though they have free will.

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The refusal to rationalize evil is expressed in the novella in several ways. One of them is the conversation between Pangloss and his friends in the last chapter. This chapter is called “Conclusion,” which points at its meaning: the chapter contains the conclusions of the whole novella. In the chapter, the characters spend much time having conversations about the nature of evil, happiness, and other philosophical questions. Pangloss wants to know the reasons for the creation of a “so strange an animal as a man.” The characters fail to find answers to their questions and seek help from a famous dervish who is believed to be the best philosopher in Turkey. His answers are rather interesting. The dervish says that good and evil are not the business of people. Moreover, he asks: “When His Highness sends a ship to Egypt does he trouble his head whether the rats in the vessel are at their ease or not?" This phrase shows that good and evil are eternal and permanent, while humans are mortal, weak, and not capable of cognition such matters. One individual can do very little to reduce the amount of evil in the world. The dervish is also a meaningful figure. He is not merely an individual but a symbol that personifies philosophy. His answer means that philosophy cannot explain the issues of “the causes and effects, the best of possible worlds, the origin of evil, the nature of the soul, and pre-established harmony." Moreover, the fact that these questions are asked by Pangloss, who appears to be a comic character, discredit those who also seek the answers.

Voltaire also refuses to rationalize evil in the final episode of the novella. An old man who says that “labor keeps off from us three great evils-idleness, vice, and want" pays little attention to the evil which exists in the world. He lives a happy life, and the characters of the novella also decide to do this. Pangloss makes attempts to continue philosophizing about the good and evil, but Candide answers to him: “Let us cultivate our garden,” which means that the attempts to explain the good and evil would not bring benefits or joy, so it is better to assume that life is too complicated to be explained by any philosophy. Voltaire put this morality in the mouth of Martin: “Work then without disputing, it is the only way to render life supportable.”

In conclusion, one of the possible reasons why Candide written by Voltaire refuses to rationalize evil may be the fact that the philosopher believed that humans and their studies are not capable of doing this. He stated that the matters of good and evil are so significant and mysterious, while humanity is so miserable that no answer would be true. Moreover, Voltaire wrote Candide to criticize the theory which dealt with such questions. The theory appeared not very efficient, and Voltaire did not want to repeat Leibnitz’s mistake. The characters tried to explain why they had experienced so many troubles and disasters, but they fail to do it and came to the conclusion that it is better to work instead of idle speaking. The dervish who personifies the philosophy did not answer their questions, which means that the answers have not yet been found.

Shakespeare’ Hamlet

Hamlet is one of the greatest plays written by William Shakespeare. The play was written in the period when the tenets of the Renaissance were starting to lose their influence. During the Renaissance, humanism, the importance of an individual, personality, and talents was among the main values. Renaissance writers put a person in the center of the universe, admired its dignity and beauty, while Hamlet already contains some elements which show that Shakespeare began to lose faith in the ideas of the Renaissance. The protagonist of the play, Hamlet, can be considered a typical Renaissance personality, but there are also characters that represent negative moral and social trends, for example, the king and Polonius. Some characters and Hamlet himself experience the struggle between the good and evil which occurs in their souls. This essay analyses the dilemmas and choices made by the characters of Hamlet through the lenses of the Renaissance ideas and defines the influence of the Renaissance crisis on the play.

The title character of the play, Hamlet, represents the Renaissance vision of a virtuous individual. He is intelligent and moral, always eager to improve himself, to learn, and develop. Hamlet has self-respect, dignity, and believes that he can make the world a better place. The young man values a clear conscience and possesses all the Renaissance moral values. However, his destiny is tragic. Hamlet faces all the worst possible human vices and has no idea how to handle all the evil which exists in the world. This shows that Shakespeare also began to be disappointed with the optimistic Renaissance conceptions. However, Hamlet cannot tolerate any manifestations of evil and decides to fight them.

Many characters of the play experience internal conflicts that serve the same purpose: to challenge the Renaissance vision of an individual. Hamlets say: “What is a man If his chief good and market of his time Be but to sleep and feed? A beast, no more.” These words refute the Renaissance conception, which stated that a man is the best of God’s creations. Hamlet comes to this conclusion by observing life and people driven by vices such as greed, lust, anger, and many others. He is desperately trying to understand why people commit such terrible things because Hamlet believes that a person who does so is worth being called a human being. This contrast between reality and Hamlet’s worldview is one of the main conflicts of the play. The protagonist feels that he is going insane. In his famous monologue “To be or not to be,” Hamlet thinks about committing suicide, because one virtuous man alone neither can compete for all the evil nor wants to live in such a world.

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Nevertheless, he adds: “Sure, he that made us with such large discourse, Looking before and after, gave us not That capability and god-like reason To fust in us unused.” Even though Hamlet understands the futility of struggle, he still decides to revenge. This decision which was not the easiest one for Hamlet is also tragic because for him to fight the evil means to let it in his soul. Hamlet kills Polonius and other people, loses Ophelia’s love, and kills his own father. Even though the impetus for Hamlet’s actions is the desire to revenge and to restore justice, his deeds lead to tragic consequences for the innocent people, such as Ophelia. At the end of the play, Hamlet dies, and his death is the penalty for his misdeeds.

Another character whose fate is similar to Hamlet’s is Laertes. Hamlet says that they are very similar, and he is right. Like Hamlet, Laertes loses his beloved sister and father and seeks revenge. He does not want to forgive and sides with the king. Laertes accepts his offer and uses poison to kill Hamlet. In the soul of Laertes, the same struggle as in Hamlet occurs between the good and evil. Nevertheless, unlike Hamlet, he does not possess the Renaissance moral values, such as honesty and dignity, and thus has to use the poisoned sword. It is remarkable that, at the end of the play, Laertes, who is already dying, forgives Hamlet and tries to help him revealing the truth about the king. This scene means that good won in the soul of Laertes although many would say it was too late.

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In conclusion, the play Hamlet was written by William Shakespeare at the period when the tenets of the Renaissance started to lose their influence. Fewer people continued to share the optimistic vision of the Renaissance individual, which stated that humanity is the best of the divine creations. These beliefs came into conflict with the harsh reality both in the cultural life of that historical period and in the play Hamlet. The title character of the play represents the Renaissance conception of an individual, but his life is tragic. Hamlet faces terrible crimes and vices inside his own family and starts to see the evil which exists in the world. He loses faith in all Renaissance postulates. Hamlet no longer sees the world as a wonderful place and people as a natural wonder. The protagonist faces a moral dilemma: to revenge or to remain idle and does not kill his own father who had committed the most serious crimes. Another character, Laertes, also experiences the inner conflict, but he does not have Renaissance moral values and acts ignobly. The conflict between high ideals formed by the Renaissance and the real-life transforms in the play in the conflict between a noble individual and the world ruled by evil and in the inner confrontation between the good and immoral faced by the characters.

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