Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Man Thinking
By the early 1800’s, a new sense of literary freedom was present in America. The colonial writers of the past were heavily influenced by their European roots, and the limits of technology had kept printed literature from great diversification. By the late 1700’s however, American population was exploding, the printed word had become much more accessible, and the newfound freedom from Britain created an environment perfect for the spread of new ideas. The search for a national identity and a spirit of nonconformity had entered the hearts of many Americans, such as writers David Hume, Henry David Thoreau, George Putnam, and Frederick Henry Hedge.
Led by Ralph Waldo Emerson, the progressive philosophy of Transcendentalism took shape in the 1820’s and 1830’s, and its proponents began to question the validity of religious doctrines and protested the intellectual institutions that were in place. Transcendentalism gave America the literary identity it was looking for, and Emerson was the most prominent and distinct voice among the Transcendentalists. Emerson played a major role in steering American literature away from its traditional English background, and called the American citizen to action by promoting the idea of individualism and man’s connection with nature. By challenging conformities created by society, celebrating trust in one's own mind, and designing a practical path to peace of mind through logic and reason, the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson most clearly define the ideals of Transcendentalism.
Americans in the early nineteenth century gained a great sense of pride in disobedience with the achievement of exemption from British rule, and Emerson embodied the nation’s will to think cr...
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...f American Literature: Volume A. Ed. Nina Baym. 8th ed. New York: Norton, 2012. 243. Print.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Volume A. Ed. Nina Baym. 8th ed. New York: Norton, 2012. 214. Print.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self-Reliance.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature: Volume A. Ed. Nina Baym. 8th ed. New York: Norton, 2012. 269. Print.
Malachuk, Daniel S., and Alan Levine. A Political Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. Lexington, Ky: University Press of Kentucky, 2011. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 31 Mar. 2014.
Miller, John P. Transcendental Learning: The Educational Legacy of Alcott, Emerson, Fuller, Peabody and Thoreau. Charlotte, N.C.: Information Age Pub, 2011. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). Web. 31 Mar. 2014.
"Transcendentalism." Encyclopædia Britannica (2013): Research Starters. Web. 31 Mar. 2014.
Thoreau wrote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” The words transformed people’s lives to think more of the why in life and live with a purpose not just do what they are told, which was a driving idea within the Transcendentalist movements. Transcendentalist were hard to define, but perhaps one of the fathers of transcendentalism Ralph Waldo Emerson defines it most gracefully in a speech he gave, “The Transcendentalist adopts the whole connection of spiritual doctrine, He believes in miracle, in the perpetual openness of the human mind to new influx of light and power: he believes in inspiration, and in ecstasy”. As Emerson’s key student and self-proclaimed Transcendentalist Thoreau fulfilled these requirements to help further this movement of higher
Ralph Waldo Emerson is considered the Father of Transcendentalism because he first introduced the idea of a simplistic and intuitive way of life. He claims, “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist . . . Nothing is at least sacred but the integrity of your own mind” (“Self-Reliance” 392). Nonconformity is an essential part of Emerson’s definition of a transcendentalist. To be able to live a truly boundless and accomplished life, one must not fall into the daily, busy life of society. He or she must stand out and follow their intuition, even it is not considered the norm. The only way to be content is to trust one’s instinct, not be jaded by the pressures society.
Emerson is known as the father of Transcendentalism because he was the founder of the movement. His writings appealed to both intellectuals and the general public even if his new ideas were hard for most of society to understand. Emerson’s entire life journey was transcendental. He was constantly thinking outside of society’s norms. Emerson once said “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist” (Emerson). Emerson means that to be a real man you cannot conform to what society wants you to be. Society tends to want everyone to think the same way and do what they are told to do. A man cannot go around following others and not thinking for himself.
Transcendentalists Thoreau and Emerson conveyed strong, specific viewpoints on the world through their writing. The transcendentalist ideals differ vastly with the lives lived by most of the modern world today. Firstly, the two differ on views of self-reliance. Secondly, they have different outlooks on the government and organized groups. Lastly, transcendentalist and modern American views vary by the way they view nature. These differences between transcendentalism and life today are essential in understanding life then, as well as life now.
“American Crisis.” The American Tradition in Literature, 12th ed. New York: McGraw Hill 2009. Print
Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.” Emerson is a firm believer of maintaining self-reliance and values rather than following the crowd. He also explains that in order to be truly successful in life, a person must make decisions and trust in his or her judgment. In today’s society, teenagers are more likely to not be self-reliant because the teens feel they will be judged for having different beliefs. People today need to realize that they should not conform to be like the rest of the world, they must not depend on the judgment and criticism of others, and people must refuse to travel somewhere in order to forget their personal problems. Through Emerson’s piece, readers are able to reflect on how people in the world today must try to be independent of others and uphold their personal opinions and philosophy.
An influential literary movement in the nineteenth century, transcendentalism placed an emphasis on the wonder of nature and its deep connection to the divine. As the two most prominent figures in the transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau whole-heartedly embraced these principles. In their essays “Self-Reliance” and “Civil Disobedience”, Emerson and Thoreau, respectively, argue for individuality and personal expression in different manners. In “Self-Reliance”, Emerson calls for individuals to speak their minds and resist societal conformity, while in “Civil Disobedience” Thoreau urged Americans to publicly state their opinions in order to improve their own government.
“The Transcendentalist adopts the whole connection of spiritual doctrine. He believes in miracle, in the perpetual openness of the human mind to new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration, and in ecstasy.”(Emerson 196). These two lines written by Ralph Waldo Emerson exemplify the whole movement of transcendentalist writers and what they believed in. Though to the writers, transcendentalism was a fight for a belief, unknown to them they could have been fighting for the betterment of human health. The transcendentalist writings of Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson have directly affected the health of modern society through the idea of transcendental meditation. Through modern science, scientists have linked increases in health among individuals through the use of transcendental meditation.
...ed to an optimistic emphasis on individualism, self-reliance, and rejection of traditional authority” (American 1). The major players in the transcendentalist movement are Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. They shared ideas such as self-reliance, and ideas about how there is a divine being that controls every person. They influenced many other writers and they even had an effect on the American society, then and now. Transcendentalism was a philosophy and a way of life. It will continue to be this as long as we have access to the great minds of the transcendental movement.
Nature, written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, is a literary work about natural world and its properties. Nature is divided into an introduction and eight chapters. Emerson defines nature as everything separate from the inner individual. The inner individual meaning the soul. The titles of the eight chapters are: Nature, Commodity, Beauty, Language, Discipline, Idealism, Spirit, and Prospects. In chapter three, Emerson introduces the idea of beauty. Beauty is a part of the natural world and it serves our needs and desires. He makes it clear that beauty is a nobler want of humanity (Emerson, 944). Beauty is not absolutely necessary for the survival of man, but it is beneficial and extremely useful.
Nature is the means for God and humanity to be reunited wholly. Emerson's enlightenment in the woods and his appreciation of natural beauty is quite profound. By becoming reconnected to the innocence, beauty and purity of nature Emerson had a revelation. He found himself closer to God. Perhaps Emerson is attempting to persuade us into fostering a greater respect for the natural world? He seems to be displeased with the "culturization" of wilderness.
...n American Literature. By Henry Louis. Gates and Nellie Y. McKay. 2nd ed. New York: W.W. Norton &, 2004. 387-452. Print.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” essay is one of his most compelling and thought provoking pieces of work. It is compelling in the sense of its lyrical condonation as he writes his feelings in an infinitesimal usage of time. It is thought provoking in that it drives the reader to believe in their own intuition and common sense rather than conforming to the comfortable and easy agreeability of popular opinion. “A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the lustre of the firmament of bards and sages” (Emerson, pp. 1). This statement reflects his notion that people should search for direction through their inner-self with separation from the influences of philosophical
Transcendentalism is not a new topic, but Ralph Waldo Emerson’s ideas suggested in his works and specifically his poem “Good-by” are still relevant to scholars today. For those interested in Emerson’s teachings of transcendentalism or the time period in which he lived, he provides insight to an important part of history by letting his background shine through his writing. Ralph Waldo Emerson experienced many things while he was alive, forming philosophies and ideas of his own that heavily impacted his