Margaret Fuller

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What is the main idea in Margaret Fuller's "Summer on the Lakes"?

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Fuller's account of her trip around the Great Lakes in 1843 takes the form of a "sketchbook" or portfolio of loosely related essays, poems, and engravings. Fuller was a member of the Transcendentalist circle; she was also the co-editor, along with Emerson, of The Dial, and an early feminist. She took this trip partly as a sort of vacation, but her writing reveals that the outward journey for her was also a kind of inward exploration, a way of coming to terms with her identity as an intellectual woman and early feminist. While she does indeed "appreciate life" in her work, I think Fuller's work is more important for her transformation of transcendental attitudes about nature—which tended to focus on the aesthetic—into something more political. Fuller comments on the degradation of the Western landscape, the unjust treatment of indigenous people, and the harsh life that women on the frontier must endure.

One small example of her sharp observation skills comes in her discussion of Niagara. Just as she has found a seat at Table Rock to contemplate the falls,

a man came to take his first look. He walked close up to the fall, and, after looking at it a moment, with an air as if thinking how he could best appropriate it to his own use, he spat into it.

Fuller remarks on the gross sense of utilitarianism such an act suggests. Not only is this a a kind of implicit criticism of the desire to "own" or subject nature to human will, it is also an identification of that sort of thinking with the male perspective.

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