American Transcendentalist Writers

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Following the influx of the puritanical style of writing in America during the 17th Century by the Founding Fathers, it could be said that what we now know as the collective `American writing' was once created almost as an effort to distance its own style from that of other European styles.

Perhaps not being incredibly popular outside their own circle of influence, writers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and other Transcendentalists began, in the 19th Century, to weave a new form of writing using philosophy as the `vehicle of thought' . While this allowed them to explore new and untouched areas in the mind, it also greatly influenced many later writers from Henry Thoreau to the more `popular' and recent Mark Twain.

Let us begin with Henry Thoreau's Walden. While Thoreau was educated in Harvard University, he lived, through a time of vast change in America. During a rise in cultural expansion and globalisation, America became more unified through the addition of new states such as Florida in 1845 and later Texas. This change also brought about a huge increase in population with numbers rising from 17 million to 133 million in 1930.

However, it seems that this explosion of life in America inspired Thoreau, as well as many of his contemporaries to, not praise the state and revel in the sense of security and comfort that the ever-prosperous America offered as many `popular' writers at the time did, but instead challenge its beliefs.

As inspiration for Walden, Thoreau lived `in the a house I had built myself, on the shore of Walden Pond' for, we are told, 15 years, thus distancing himself from popular culture and humanity in general. During his time there he began questioning many things, especially Benj...

... middle of paper ..., seen as `popular' in anyway outside the literary circle. The public simply wanted to read a good story and not have to think about their own positions in society for fear of humiliation perhaps. However, as time passes, these writers' work becomes increasingly relevant to the society in which we live. This was highlighted during the Vietnam War long after Henry Thoreau's death. Walden was held in extremely high regard by those who, like Thoreau during the war against Mexico, skipped conscription.


Selected by Hughes, Ted. Emily Dickinson. Ed Ted Hughes. (Faber and Faber, 2001)

The Norton Anthology of American Literature, sixth edition. Ed Nina Baym (Norton 2003)

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden or Life in the Woods, pg 1807 - 1982. (1846-50)

Melville, Herman. Bartleby the Scrivener, pg 2330 - 2355. (1853)
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