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Ralph Waldo Emmerson – Frederick Douglas Essay, Research Paper
What would happen if a citizen of a community decided he or she would interpret the law in his or her own way, disregarding the existing law all together? Would ?society? be completely corrupted, destroyed? It is people who voice their opinions that would be labeled as society?s destroyers. Those who supported the status quo would view the independent thinkers as a threat and would create laws in an attempt to control them. The result would cause the two sides to continuously try to defeat each other. The thinkers, who would be trying to induce change, would use moral arguments and the mainstream followers would use the courts in an attempt to maintain the status quo. Change is difficult to occur within the confines of the law simply because the leaders of society would loose their power. Laws are a way for government leaders to maintain their status and position. If the laws didn?t exist, neither would the leader?s powers.
John Proctor decided it was necessary to break the law because his wife?s life depended on it. He broke the laws trying change the power structure of his community because the current leaders were abusing the power they were given. He wanted people to see what they were doing was madness. The people of Salem Massachusetts viewed change as, ?supporting Satan?s ways.? therefore they would not except change. Change was simply not an acceptable thing. It was not done and never had been. If people are taught by previous generations that prejudices are acceptable, this is the way in which they will govern themselves. This is exactly what happened in the case of John Proctor. He made a decision not to support the existing system of government. This decision to violate the rules of his society was very hard for Proctor to make. However after long consideration Proctor says, ?I can. And there?s your first marvel, that I can. You have made your magic now, for now I do think I see some shred of goodness in John Proctor.? (C, 144) He could have saved his own life and left his wife to die. The decision he did make ended his own life but saved his wife, a more noble choice which left him in his words, ?a free man.? The society that he resided in was a bigoted one with leaders that were quick to judge others based on arbitrary differences. Proctor, at first willing to conform to these prejudices, later came to a realization, a moment of epiphany where he saw that what his colonial community was doing was wrong. The people of Salem thought they were going through a period of religious cleansing, however all that was happening was that the citizens were being lead to believe outlandish lies. John Proctor decided he wouldn?t stand for this any longer and he broke the laws. All John Proctor was given for his efforts was a trip to town gallows proving that change is difficult to occur under the confines of the law.
?I was determined to be used so no longer.? (FD, 289) said Frederick Douglas. Douglas, also a ?law breaker? who challenged the power structure of his time. Similar to Proctor, Douglas broke the laws in an attempt to educate and show that what was occurring was craziness. Men are not property but rather people. It seems like a very obvious and clear idea today. It is in fact the first statement of the bill of rights, ?All men are created equal…? Douglas fought for this basic right. His weapon was his education, which ironically was prohibited by law for slaves. In his early life Frederick Douglas found it impossible to live in the manner he was. He only saw his mother two or three times in his life because it was a very long trip (more than twelve miles on foot after a hard days work in the fields) for his mother to make. Other driving forces that motivated Douglas were laws that allowed white slave owners to purchase and sell black slaves like cattle. There were even such laws that allowed slave owners the right to murder with impunity. Douglas? remedy to this problem was not to abide under the laws that had been laid out for him. Sometimes Douglas would get in to a bit of trouble for this. An example is when his plan for escape was leaked to the slave master and he received ?punishment.? Frederick Douglas? encounter with the law is consistent with that of John Proctor. Although Douglas did not die for his cause in the fashion of a martyr like Proctor, his attempt to reform the law was no less of a risk and had equal if not greater importance.
Henry David Thoreau was possibly the most radical of all law breakers. He used his abilities as a writer as a tool to achieve awareness in such works as ?Civil Disobedience.? One of Thoreau?s main points was that we should not live in fear of the law, but rather live our own ways. Ralph Waldo Emerson says, ?I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names.? (SR, 169) We should not bow down to someone because they happen to be addressed as ?king.? Thoreau says that a peasant is no less of a person than the king who rules him. Henry David Thoreau?s main focus was to show people how to live for themselves without considering others approval or disapproval. Thoreau was a bit more broad in his arguments than John Proctor and Frederick Douglas. In addition to attacking individual laws such as taxation supporting the Mexican War, Thoreau would take on the entire government. ?Governments show thus how successfully men can be imposed on.? (CD, 235) Thoreau would not be confined by law rather he would confine it. He questioned its place in American society. Thoreau goes to the extreme and even says, ?This people must cease to hold slaves, and to make war on Mexico, though it cost them their existence as a people.? (CD, 239) What Thoreau is saying is that the American people must be willing to put an end to their country if that would mean putting an end to slavery. Henry David Thoreau was inspirational to other great reformers. Thoreau?s teachings are visible in great leaders such as, Ghandi and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Indirectly, Thoreau was able to make changes in American society despite the confines of the law.
Mookie?s law breaking is on a different level than John Proctor?s and Henry David Thoreau?s. Proctor?s and Thoreau?s ?illegal? actions were somewhat premeditated while Mookie clearly had no intention of breaking laws until right before he acted. It is also hard to compare a federal crime such as denouncing everything the courts have established in Proctor?s case and evading taxes in Thoreau?s case with destruction of property in Mookie?s case. However their motives were one in the same. Mookie saw injustice towards others and he acted. Mookie did not give his life for his cause despite the risk of death (Radio Raheem had been a victim of police brutality.) but non-the-less he did act out. By throwing a garbage can through Sal?s window, Mookie made the community aware of Sal?s and his son?s attitudes towards black people. They were racist and Mookie decided he would break laws to show the community how they really felt. In the end Mookie did not gain anything and his attempt at reform was unsuccessful. However he did show that once again change is difficult to occur under the confines of the law because the law enforcement officials arrived before the situation could escalate. One must ask, would Mookie?s attempt at reform have been more successful if there were no authority figures to prevent it?
It is the status quo in American society that makes these people break laws. It is people who try to change the views of the people that are deemed radical and dangerous. When reform is attempted it is difficult to gain public support because people have been taught at a young age to uphold the status quo. People fear change. When the way of government was challenged during the revolutionary war, the American people feared that monarchy may become the new form of government which was the very thing that America does not want to be. Change is difficult to occur with in the confines of the law because legislation prevents it, but not impossible. Laws change and public opinion with them. Those who were once viewed as radicals are now heroes. Ralph Waldo Emerson does say, ?To be great is to be misunderstood.? (SR, 173)