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Societies designed to construct the ideal American community are known as utopian communities. They have existed since the beginning of American history. These communities were institutionalized in the 1840s. Pressures from industrialization and urbanization, which resulted in criticism of the social and traditional values that define the American community, gave rise to a utopian society in America. The desire to form a perfect society which was in direct opposition to the world in which they lived in resulted in the formation of these class of society. The paper will focus on Fruitland which is one of the Utopian communities that was started by Charles Lane and Amos Bronson in Harvard, Massachusetts. Fruitland began in the 1840s and applied Transcendentalists principles.
The Fruitland community began when Charles Lane bought a parcel of land which was later known as the Wayman farm. The Land was 36 hectares in size and comprised of a barn and an old farm. However, the community did not believe in buying land. According to Lane, “We do not recognize the purchase of land; but its redemption from the debasing state of the property, to divine uses, we understand; where those whom the world esteems owners are found yielding their rights to the Supreme Owner.” The people who made Fruitland their home had a unique lifestyle which was different from the rest of Americans which entailed drinking only water, used unheated water for bathing, never ate animal’s products, and utilized natural sunlight during the day and the artificial light was only allowed during the night but for a short time. Additionally, animals were not used for labor, and no one owned wealth individually as the property was communally owned. In a sad turn of events, the community was short-lived because it was not self-sufficient and could not take care of everyone. The source of income was farming which proved to be hard. Currently, the Fruitland Museum houses the remnants of the Utopian community which includes the historic buildings and cottages (Parker 148).
History of the Fruitland Community
In 1841, Amos Bronson came up with the idea of Fruitland. He was an active member of the New England Non-Resistance Society where he provided teaching services. Later on, in 1841, he went to England with the hope of finding individuals who would form the experimental community. Amos specifically chose England because it had the majority of his followers who were educators just like him and used his philosophy of teaching in a house they had formed called the Alcott House. Later on, in the same year, some members of the Alcott House including Charles Lane took a journey with him to America in October 1842. In July, Alcott stated in the media that, "We have arranged with the proprietor of an estate of about a hundred acres, which liberates this tract from human ownership.” Later on, the community moved to the piece of land purchased by Lane. The community was open to everyone, and those who wished to join could do so as there were no procedures or admission requirements at Fruitland. In fact, there was no record keeping of members involved in the group. Many residents only lived with the community for a while before they left (Francis 123). The people of Fruitlands were later called “consecrated cranks” who followed strict virtues and principles. The residents believed in sincerity, simplicity and brotherly love.
Lane and Alcott’s ideas were based on Transcendentalism. The two believed in the innate ideas of God as a world Spirit and not as portrayed by Christians. Alcott world view was a sort of religious anarchism where he excluded himself from earthly things to focus on the spirit. The society believed that the physical character and appearance was an indicator of what was within. In fact, they thought that physical strength was connected to spiritual generation. Although the community was based on working together as a unit, it also supported individualistic advancement. Alcott also believed that children were pure souls and a proper education would transform them into perfect children whose innocence would bring a sense of hope to the elders’ of the community (Hankins 37).
The community segregated itself from the world economy by not utilizing hired labor, refraining from trade and not owning any personal wealth. The Fruitland society believed that they could sustain themselves without the need of participating in economic activities. Alcott views on the economy were that it was evil. Therefore, this utopian community planned on making the goods they needed in their daily lives and farmed the land to produce food that would sustain them. They believed that they could separate themselves from the “external” economic activities which would involve buying food from outside the community and participating in trade. The policy about personal property that was practiced by the Fruitland was initially derived from another Utopian community called Shakers. However, Lane and Bronson advanced the idea and made it such that the communally held property was capable of making them completely self-sufficient. Unlike the Shakers who traded in goods they made for food stuff, the Fruitlands residents were able to survive without outside help by doing away with stimulants and animal products in their diets. Although the community followed ideas developed by Charles Lane and Alcott, they were allowed to practice their brand of ideas without interfering with other members.
The diet and lifestyle of the Fruitlands
The society’s menu consisted of a simple diet that excluded animal products and stimulants. Additionally, they did not take honey and milk. Lane wrote. “No animal substances neither flesh, butter, cheese, eggs, nor milk will pollute our tables, nor corrupt our bodies.” The diet was majorly water and fruits. Some vegetables such as beets, carrots, and potatoes were excluded from the diet because they grew downwards into the ground. People and animals were respected such that any products whether food or clothing derived from slave labor and animals was forbidden. Therefore, canvas shoes and linen clothes were the only used type of clothing as clothes made from cotton was shunned as it involved the exploitation of slave labor, and the wool was derived from sheep (Felton 54) . Cows and horses were not used to plow the ground and instead, they farmed the land using simple tools. The ideology put forward was that animals were to be protected by humans because they were limited intellectually and their slaughter was unjust because the animals could not defend themselves.
Over the years, there were many utopian communities which formed after the first town was established by Robert Owen in New Lanark, Scotland. The Fruitlands did not have a significant impact on the transcendental community as it did not survive for long. The downfall of this society was attributed to policies that it adopted. For instance, they did not use animal labor which made it hard to farm and produce enough produce that could sustain everyone. Only 11 acres of the land was arable, and after a while, the whole system became unstable and was dissolved. Also, the men spent a lot of o time teaching instead of working in the field. In the end, Fruitland only survived for seven months before its members decided to quit.
Felton, R Todd. A Journey Into the Transcendentalists. New England: Roaring Forties Press, 20o6.
Francis , Richard. Fruitlands: The Alcott Family and Their Search for Utopia. New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press, 2010.
Hankins, Barry. The Second Great Awakenening and the Transcendentalists. Westport,. Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 2004.
McFarland, Philip. Hawthorn in Concord. Hew York: Grove Press, 2004. Document.
Parker, Barbara. The Transcendentalists. Athens,Georgia: The University of Gerogia Press, 2007.
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