Wow look, a post actually related to Ghenglish! More of my posts will be now that Design Lab is over and because we’re starting the 20 Time Project soon, but that’s for another day. Below is the essay I wrote for our Carpe Diem unit which relates “seizing the day” to issues like conformity, familiarity, and identity. I loved learning about Carpe Diem, and I hope this essay gives you an inspiration of growth.
Sprouting Against Conformity
Who are we? It’s human nature for people to be curious, and when it comes to our identity we are always searching to define ourselves. New experiences help us to do this, and our decisions show our personalities. Robert Frost shows this well in his poem, “The Road Not Taken,” through the line, “…Two roads diverged in a wood, And I, I took the one less traveled by, And that has made all the difference,” (18-20).
This poem deals with the idea of conformity, and how our lives are even richer when we act as individuals. As Frost takes a walk in the woods in his poem, it also shows how people are connected to trees. Conformists would look like stumps with no new growth to expand their lives, and nonconformists would have many branches of new experiences, like a young sapling.
The idea of Carpe Diem and “seizing the day” can inspire people to make decisions they normally wouldn’t so that they can break out of the ruts that they are stuck in. With Carpe Diem in mind, is it possible for people to grow and change as they discover their identities?
To extend the idea of conformity, the best example of character growth through Carpe Diem is with the characters of Dead Poet’s Society (DPS). Conformity stunts character growth because it lets people stay the same, and forces them to fit a standard. Mr. Nolan and the Latin teacher at Welton showed this clearly through their hatred of Mr. Keating’s self-expressive ideas, but they were conformists of the academy’s society. As a result, these two characters were boring and flat, and stayed static.
The boys in Mr. Keating’s class, however, were inspired by his hated ideas. Todd was quiet and never spoke up in class, but at the end of the movie he decided to stand up for Mr. Keating as he was being forced to leave the academy for good. Todd stood up on his desk and told Keating, “O Captain! My Captain!” defying the commands of Mr. Nolan as the rest of the kids followed Todd’s lead (Dead Poet’s Society).
Todd being a nonconformist allowed for him to stick up for himself and define his identity through what he believed in. Todd found new confidence within himself that Carpe Diem unleashed, and this change allowed him to leave his old, quiet self behind to become who he wanted to be.
Does conformity always stunt a person’s growth, though? A similar idea to the issue of nonconformity vs. conformity is seen with familiarity. Familiar surroundings may be comfortable for someone, and even make them happier than change, but they can be limiting. People are afraid of change and unfamiliar things because they know everything going on within their life in the present.
While it can be scary, change is the only way people can grow, and non-conformers use this to their advantage to become individuals. Neil showed this well in DPS as his father and the pressure to become a doctor were all familiar to him, but he became sick of it all and fought to become an actor (Dead Poet’s Society). Neil decided to do something he had never done in order grow into the person he could be instead of the person he was, and used nonconformity hand in hand with unfamiliarity.
On the other hand, T.J. from Antaeus became a non-conformer in order to keep familiarity in his life. T.J. knew he was a farmer at heart, and created a farm of sorts in his new city in order to have a piece of his home with him. The farm became his lifeline, and when the adults threatened to get rid of it, T.J. broke and exclaimed, “‘They ain’t gonna touch my earth,’… ‘They ain’t gonna lay a hand on it!’” (Deal 196).
By building the garden on the rooftop, he broke the rules of his new home and became a non-conformer. This leads to the idea that maybe growth is affected by someone’s knowledge of their own identity, because while T.J. knew who he was and changed slightly, his character didn’t grow much, unlike Neil who changed immensely and redefined himself and his character.
If this is the case, perhaps identity is the driving cause behind any growth that Carpe Diem causes. People grow in different ways, but this growth can’t start if a person doesn’t know who they are or what they want to do with their lives. This discovery of who we truly are can happen in different ways based on our personality and how we understand ourselves, all sparked by Carpe Diem.
The first method is through mindfulness, where a person becomes a loafer like Walt Whitman to “seize the day” peacefully. “Song of Myself” told Whitman’s journey of learning about his surroundings and creating empathy within himself for everyone around him, producing a beautiful poem that inspires others to experience life at its most raw. The line, “I am large… I contain multitudes,” shows that people not only are interconnected with each other, but that we are ever-changing from our past to future selves (Whitman 35).
A similar view on Carpe Diem to Whitman’s loafing is seen in the poem, coincidentally titled “Carpe Diem,” by Billy Collins. Collins is a loafer himself, “contradicting” himself like Whitman throughout his poem by writing about wanting to live in an incredible way, when he actually just sits around. His method of Carpe Diem is another way of finding your identity through mindfulness, as seen through the lines, “Crashing through the iron gates of life is what it’s all about, I decided as I lay down on the carpet,” (Collins 16-18).
The author wants to go out and change his life, but instead he spends his time slowing down to make the most of the present he has through simple observation. While this isn’t exactly Mr. Keating’s “Make your lives extraordinary!” idea of Carpe Diem, different personalities might mesh with this understanding of the phrase better (Dead Poet’s Society).
Whitman and Collin’s view of Carpe Diem is further supported by the video “What if the Small Life is Actually the Epic Life?” by John Spencer. A line in the video that shows how important a peaceful idea of Carpe Diem can be is, “What if it’s all about tiny, humbler experiences that ultimately build a better life,” (Spencer).
The extraordinary version of Carpe Diem is the most well-known, but in reality a good life can be defined by smaller moments where we’ve been happy and what we’ve done to cause this happiness. The journey to define ourselves doesn’t need to be out of reach when change can happen through observation, and any change at all can be considered growth.
Everyone longs for an extraordinary life that only Carpe Diem can be the answer to, but there are many varieties of it to uniquely fit each person’s needs. Carpe Diem can be peaceful like Whitman’s or aggressive like Keating’s, but it still allows us to grow, either through understanding our identities, dealing with familiarity, or fighting against conformity. “Seizing the day” is the fertilizer for our trees of life, allowing us to become multi-dimensional people impacting the world with our high-reaching branches.
- Collins, Billy. “Carpe Diem.” 2008. Ballistics.
- Dead Poet’s Society. Directed by Peter Weir, Touchstone Pictures, 1989.
- Deal, Borden. “Antaeus.” Mirrors & Windows: Connecting with Literature.
- Frost, Robert. “The Road Not Taken.” The Poetry of Robert Frost, 1916.
- “What if the Small Life is Actually the Epic Life?” Youtube, uploaded by John Spencer, 10 Jan. 2016, www.youtube.com/watch?v=W8_VZo993BI. Accessed 23 Jan. 2017.
- Whitman, Walt. “Song of Myself.” 1855. Sleeping on the Wing, by Kenneth Koch and Kate Farrell, Vintage, pp. 25-38.