Change in American Social Values in Thomas Merton's Rain and the Rhinoceros and Fire Watch

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A query from Thomas Merton: “Can’t I just be in the woods without any special reason?” (TMSM, 391). The question returns with each reading of Merton’s earlier works. And, the commonplace response of the newly introduced student to Merton comes not from the Trappist Monk, but from Dorothee Soelle in her book Theology for Skeptics: Reflections on God: “But must we really speak in this way?” (Sölle, 15). No doubt the gifted theologian realizes the truth in this hypothetical Socratic dialogue; even the most humdrum reader, too, should find the words contradictory but necessary. Indeed, Merton asked his rhetorical question in “Rain and the Rhinoceros,” an essay written in response to the changing of American (and International) social values, …show more content…

He sought to focus upon the individual as a precursor of change, rather than the institution, or the Church, as the sole mechanism to accomplish informed action. Precisely. Merton challenged convention. My thesis stands thus: Merton existed allotropically in his early years, focused on a monastic and contemplative life while at the same time promoting social change. Yet, his writing style strongly reflects the modernist thinkers he studied while at Columbia. The paper shall focus on the essays “Rain and the Rhinoceros” and “Fire Watch, July 4, 1952,” and present passages from his journals. It will also draw attention from other sources other than Merton’s own. Finally, it will conclude with the ideas of the author.

‘It will talk as long as it wants, this rain.’ “But they must know that there is wetness abroad” (TMSM, 391). A Thoreauvian statement. A Thoreauvian note as well in the laconic Mertonian reason: “Perhaps they even feel it. I cannot say” (TMSM, 391). An essay populated by surreptitious tendencies, “Rain and the Rhinoceros” depicts the culmination of a man leaving the modern world on his own accord. The aspect of the essay is about the attempt, by the hermit, to break away from the herd of everyday civilization and bask in the rain, a gift from the heavens that for the time Merton can simply enjoy, away from “a womb of collective illusion” (TMSM, 393). It’s an essay of prodigious strength concerning a

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