Teaching Transcendentalism with the Movie "Field of Dreams"

Teaching Transcendentalism with the Movie "Field of Dreams"
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“Take time to stop and smell the flowers.” This advice has been handed down through countless generations and was perhaps never taken more literally than by Transcendentalist writers Ralph Waldo Emerson and to a greater extent, Henry David Thoreau. However, when one tries to introduce the concept of Transcendentalism to the classroom, most teachers are met with stares of confusion and at times horror.

“Thoreau did what?” “He lived where?” “ Why did he do that?” “It sounds stupid”. These are just some of the responses I got each year when I taught an excerpt from Walden. It got to the point where good old Henry David was frustrating me. I would go home and night and think, “Why DID he have to do this? Now I have to teach about him and the kids just don’t get it.”

I tried many ways to get them to understand that it was not the actual cabin by the woods that was important, but the concept of slowing down and appreciating what was around him. It is a difficult concept for students, because not every one of them is in love with nature.

Field of Dreams Movie Poster

Inspiration Strikes

However, I soon figured out a way to help them understand. What could be better for students than a visual aid to help them make that connection? Late one night, I was flipping through the TV and “Field of Dreams” was on. I tuned in once again to watch Kevin Costner build his baseball diamond in his yard and as I watched, it struck me. He’s a modern-day Thoreau! He’s being encouraged to connect to a simpler time, to stop and appreciate the beauty around him, and yes, to gain an appreciation for “the love of the game.”

Thoreau’s giving up of his belongings is mirrored in Costner’s characters defaulting on his mortgage. Thoreau’s idea of living a simple life can be seen in Joe Jackson’s desire to just play a simple game of baseball. Jackson’s ghostly voice and presence may well be the voice and presence of Thoreau himself, encouraging Costner to slow down and appreciate all he has.

The symbols are there. The teaching tool for “Walden” and the beliefs of the Transcendentalists are there in the film. Download the intro power point on the Chicago “Black” Sox, the film power point and assessment. Have your students read a review of the film. Use the writing assignment to make the connections to the Transcendentalist Movement. And score a winning run as the teacher of an engaged, motivated, interested class with this fun and thought-provoking lesson.


This post is part of the series: Film Genre Study: Sci-Fi / Fantasy

Teaching a class on film is not just a throw-away elective. Popular movies often make references to history or the state of the culture at the time. Use ‘The Wizard of Oz’ to teach about the Great Depression, or ‘Star Wars’ to teach about the rise of communism with this series.

  1. “Over The Rainbow To The Land Of Mordor!” The Escape Into Sci-Fi and Fantasy
  2. Heading “Over the Rainbow” to Escape the Depression with ‘The Wizard of Oz’
  3. “Use The Force” to Teach Communism: Drawing Connections Using Star Wars
  4. Teaching Transcendentalism Through A “Field of Dreams”
  5. From the Shadow Filled Depths of Mordor Emerges a Love of Reading