The Education of Henry Adams: The Theme of Aura and Tradition in the Context of Modernity

  • Received : 2009.10.30
  • Accepted : 2009.12.07
  • Published : 2009.12.30


Walter Benjamin expresses his concern that the new technologies of mechanical reproduction robs the artwork of its own uniqueness, its "aura." Benjamin uses the word "aura" to refer to the sense of awe or reverence one presumably experiences in the presence of works of art. This aura does not merely inhere in the works of art themselves, because Benjamin extends his notion of aura to the level of how he both understands and positions the modern subject in the world of uncertainty and transitoriness. The theoretical framework of Benjaminian aura becomes a crucial and efficient strategic apparatus to read The Education of Henry Adams. As for Benjamin the modern implies a sense of alienation, a historical discontinuity, and a decisive break with tradition, Adams observes that modern civilization has wiped out "tradition," a mythic home in which man can experience order and unity. Adams claims that the growth of science, reason, and multiplicity at the expense of religion, feeling, and unity has been accompanied by a parallel growth in individualism at the expense of community and tradition. To Adams the collapse of traditional values such as maternity, fecundity, and security in America is a waking nightmare of the moral dilemmas of a capitalist society, in which the cruel force of the modern Dynamo is becoming a prime governing principle.