Margaret Fuller

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Why did Margaret Fuller expect a new empowered woman to appear soon in "The Great Lawsuit"? Was literary culture a factor?

"And will not she soon appear? The woman who shall vindicate their birthright for all women; who shall teach them what to claim, and how to use what they obtain?" (Fuller)

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Fuller was an voracious reader and would have been aware by the early 1840s, when she published "The Great Lawsuit," of women writers ahead of her paving the way for the newly empowered woman. These pathbreakers included Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women, arguing for better education of women so that they could become better wives and mothers. This was a theme Fuller picked up and expanded on in "The Great Lawsuit." In addition, Englishwoman Harriet Martineau had recently published Society in America, based on her travels in states. She too called out vigorously for better education for women. George Sand, a French woman novelist, had recently published Indiana, a best-selling novel that argued that a woman should be free to leave an unhappy marriage in pursuit of true love.

As noted above, transcendentalist thought, with its emphasis on the individual, was a counterweight to conventional thinking about social roles, and therefore helped encourage women to break out of stereotypes. In fact, Emerson made Fuller, though a woman, editor of the periodical The Dial. Fuller wrote "The Great Lawsuit" for this publication.

With a number of prominent women writing about both the rights of women and the need for better education for women, it is no wonder Fuller thought the time was right for the "empowered" woman to step forward.

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In many respects, the literary tradition of which Fuller had been a part actively believed that there could be a transformational element within society.  Being a Transcendentalist and heavily influenced by Emerson, Fuller had little reason to doubt the appearance of a transformational notion of gender relations.  Transcendentalism had called for a radical reconfiguration of what was in the name of what can be.  Through her writings, Fuller represented this.  For example, Fuller writes that transformation within gender relations could be envisioned and seen over time:  "All men are privately influenced by women; each has his wife, sister, or female friends, and is too much biased by these relations to fail of representing their interests."  The literary culture of Transcendentalism emphasized that social change can be brought about by internal reflection and thought.  Fuller and other Transcendentalists suggested that when people's thought processes are changed, social evolution becomes the logical result.  Fuller reflects this in regards to gender relations in society, clearly reconfiguring what a women "can and ought to do":  

We would have every arbitrary barrier thrown down. We would have every path laid open to woman as freely as to man. Were this done, and a slight temporary fermentation allowed to subside, we believe that the Divine would ascend into nature to a height unknown in the history of past ages, and nature, thus instructed, would regulate the spheres not only so as to avoid collision, but to bring forth ravishing harmony. Yet then, and only then, will human beings be ripe for this, when inward and outward freedom for woman, as much as for man, shall be acknowledged as a right, not yielded as a concession.

The emphasis on "inward and outward" freedom for both men and women is a reflection of the Transcendentalist culture Fuller actively embraces.  It could be argued Transcendentalism was the most fertile ground where social activism could present itself. The overall reconfiguration of individuals and their place in the world is the essence of Transcendentalism.  Such a change in thought process results in the empowerment of women and those voices who were previously silenced.  The emphasis on changing individual action through reflection about habits, manners of speech, and recalibrating thought towards a larger end are areas where this literary culture helped to enhance Fuller's cause.  

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