Monday, October 18, 2010

Margaret Fuller, Summer on the Lakes, Day #1

--Fuller begins her trip with a visit to Niagara Falls. In doing so, she has to deal both with the falls themselves and her expectations. Does she ultimately get something from her time at the falls or is it too shaped by expectations?

--At the time Fuller was traveling to what we now call the midwest, it was largely frontier settlement. What is her attitude toward the development of this country? What good things and bad things does she encounter?

--Like Thoreau's Week, this text has its tangents, but two particularly notable ones are the stories of Mr. P and Mariana, both about the dangers of marrying the wrong person (in part). Is there any way to link these stories to Fuller's meditation on the frontier?


  1. In looking at Fuller's trip to the Niagara Falls, I believe she does get, or gain something from her time spent at the falls. While I believe she does hype up the falls with great expectations, perhaps too great, she mentions at several times how she still finds Niagara so majestic. "People complain of the buildings at Niagara, and fear to see it further deformed. I cannot sympathize with such an apprehension: the spectacle is capable to swallow up all such objects; . . ." (5).

    Following that, where I feel it's most clear how he actually gains something is at the end of the chapter when he talks of the architects and builders of the Falls. She says, "Then arose in my breast a genuine admiration, and a humble adoration of the Being who was the architect of this and of all. Happy were the first discoverers of Niagara, those who could come unawares upon this view and upon that, whose feelings were entirely their own" (9). I don't believe she has the same feeling once seeing Niagara as she expected, but she still gets a lot out of it and it's beauty.

  2. Fuller clearly experiences a wide range of emotions while visiting Niagara, many of which are dominated by her expectations and what she's heard of others experiencing the falls. At first she explains that the "perpetual trampling of the water seized [her] senses" and it seems as though her reaction to the natural wonder is all her own and completely normal. However, she goes on to say that it was the rapids, not the falls themselves, that enchanted her "far beyond" what she expected (5). She continues explaining that she was "moved in the wrong place" and she seems to be anxious to leave the falls, despite the overwhelming emotion she felt for the beauty of the rapids. I think her interaction with the falls was completed jaded by her expectations, as she says, "I thought only of comparing the effect on my mind with what I had read and heard" and that she experienced, "almost a feeling of disappointment" (8).

    Although she does find beauty in an aspect of the falls, I think Fuller is still jealous of those who could experience their beauty in 100% their own way, as she writes, "happy were the first discoverers of Niagara... whose feelings were entirely their own" (9). I think Fuller's seeming ability to find beauty in anything and simply say "It is good to be here" (1) makes her trip to the Falls a worthwhile one, however had she stumbled upon them herself, she would have gotten much more out of it. I think many of us experience this when visiting a place we've heard so much about. We see it how we are supposed to see it, rather than how we wish to see it (even when it comes to not actual places, but things, such as movies, new songs, TV episodes, etc).

  3. Fuller's trip to Niagra Falls was, in a sense, a metaphor for the cruelty of human expectations. She commented on her struggle to appreciate the Falls for what they should be viewed as–a spectacle–but instead couldn't reconcile her comparison of past emotions when viewing spectacle and the expectations she'd built up for what they'd be. She used Niagra Falls as the main example, but she seemed to be more commenting on the human nature to approach all situations like this. On our penchant for having an inability to shelf previous emotions for new ones.

    To make a really poor analogy, every year, going into the holiday times, I build up in my mind all the nostalgia and positive emotions I attach to Christmas in my youth–putting up the decorations with my mom, listening to the music, watching certain holiday movies, etc. Every year, I try to recreate those positive emotions, but I can't because all I can think about is the former attached emotions. They prohibit me from reaching the same level of appreciation.

    That, in a convoluted way, is the same thing Fuller is saying about Niagra Falls. She can't enjoy them in full, and she's jealous of people that can. It's weird, but past positive emotions almost turn into a bad thing because of her inability to make them subside for future enjoyment.

  4. I think ultimately, Fuller did indeed get something out of her time at the falls. Through a spiral of different emotions leading up to the climactic end of her experience, she ultimately gets to a point where it seems even those previous expectations were surpassed. "At last, slowly and thoughtfully I walked down to the bridge leading to Goat Island, and when I stood upon this frail support, and saw a quarter of a mile of tumbling, rushing rapids, and heard their everlasting roar, my emotions overpowered me, a choking sensation rose to my throat, a thrill rushed through my veins, 'my blood ran rippling to my finger's ends.' This was the climax of the effect which the falls produced upon me" (8). In the midst of her final account of the falls, her emotions seem to plummet as she comes to the terrapin bridge, only to have her emotions, once again lowered by her expectations. "I looked for a short time, and then with almost of feeling of disappointment, turned to go to the other points of view to see if I was not mistaken in not feeling any surpassing emotion at this sight" (8). Her expectations for this particular account had come from pictures and what she had previously seen and heard. Though she didn't get the full effect of her experience that night at the terrapin bridge, she does seem to take a step back at the big picture of what all this meant to her. She takes almost a spiritual turn as she accounts for every emotion she had felt throughout her experience, explaining, "Then arose in my breast a genuine admiration, and a humble adoration of the Being who was the architect of this and of all" (9). In the end, she didn't get what she expected with the falls, but possibly more than, if not even better than she had expected.

  5. Fuller travels across the frontier with curiosity, admiration, and disgust. She is filled with the same urge for exploration as the settlers, but she only wishes to observe and absorb its surroundings, leaving it the same as she found it. She is disturbed, yet optimistic about the development of the frontier. She sees the settlers as only in it for personal gain. Instead of appreciating the beauty of the landscape, they trample and destroy it in the name of civilization, building their houses and plowing the fields. They drove out the American Indians, who lived in harmony with the nature and did not try to manipulate it. She tries to remain hopeful, however, because the territory is only in its state of infancy. She hopes that in time new ideas and philosophies will come out of it that are superior to the old.

    Her encounters with the settlers are not all bad, however. She is very much impressed with those at Rock River, for example. Their log cabin fits perfectly in its surroundings and embellishes them. The people fit there too, and are of a very hospitable and amiable nature. In fact, they are in a state of natural being themselves.

    One distasteful thing she encounters is the state of the women on the frontier. They followed their husbands there, but were ill-equipped to handle their new situation. The education they received in the cities preparing them for womanhood proved useless for life on the frontier. They found more hard work to do, and did not have the skills to do it. Also, their former leisure activities were unfitting for the wilderness. All of this left the women miserable, while the men, much better equipped for rustic life, were content.

  6. Fuller does not deny that the falls is a very nice place and that it is very beautiful, but she does believe that it is less of a reaction than she had expected. At the time the people were very exposed to Niagara because of all the paintings and the stories about it. Even though they did not have the internet, people still had experienced Niagara through other people. As a result of this, some of the amazement of Niagara was taken away. Because Fuller already held some knowledge of the falls, the experience was less than what it could have been. This does not change the fact that is was still a nice trip and an amazing thing to see, it just was not what it could have been. People are all going to have different experiences, but the people who see it first will definitely hold an upper hand to everyone else. When people see something for the first time they have to tell everyone they know about it, which hinders everyone else's experience of it. This trip was still a thoughtful trip and it was still meaningful none the less.

  7. As we discussed, I agree that Fuller is unable to enjoy her time at the Falls because she has too many expectations of it. At this point, she has seen paintings and heard about the experience of others. When she does get there, I think she is too uncomfortable because of all the people and hustle and bustle. However, I found myself wondering if she was by herself would she have gotten a completely different experience? It seemed like she was not only annoyed with other tourists, but also with her chaperons. Also, no one likes to be stuck in a particular place, and I believe that the feeling that should could not leave when she wanted also had a negative effect on her experience.

  8. Fuller is underwhelmed by the new frontier of the United States and the "west" as she knew it. Fuller believes the frontier is wild and beautiful, but the life there is disgusting and downtrodden. Fuller finds that most of the frontier settlements are not peacefully joining in with nature, rather they are building settlements in spite of nature. There are some settlements, towns and areas that do an alright job, but all in all, the frontier is a rather lawless land with rather aimless people. It is certainly Fuller's wish that direction strikes the people of the frontier, before the new west is ruined for lack of planning.

  9. Fuller was dealing with some high expectations. As was said in class, this trip came at a time when she was graduating college and trying to figure out what to do with her life. She needed to know her purpose. Everyone talked and talked about all the places where they had great experiences so she decided that she would go there.

    The problem with tourism is that the sights are overrated almost 100% of the time. Fuller experienced this and is somewhat disappointed. However, I believe that she would have been disappointed whether it was the Statue of liberty, the grand canyon, or the colosseum. The problem, to me, is that she went expecting a space to bring her some kind of awe or satisfaction. Everyone talked it up to be this awesome experience and it was, for them, a great experience, but it wasn't just the Niagara Falls. One cannot be completely satisfied with an animate object; there must be some sort of emotional connection. An experience has to mean something to be great.

    Although this is, for the most part, negative towards the falls, I think she did come out of it with some good. In her poem at the beginning she says:

    "I give you what I can, not what I would,
    If my small drinking-cup would hold a flood"

    I think that this is saying that her experience was more than what she could put into the small english vocabulary. If anyone's small drinking cup could hold a flood than nothing would be able to be overrated. That is just what this means though; a small cup cant hold a flood, and experience, if it is a meaningful experience, is more than anyone on the outside can grasp. One can fully describe a space but not a place.


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