Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau as Fathers of Transcendentalism

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau as Fathers of Transcendentalism

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Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau as Fathers of Transcendentalism


Transcendentalism was a movement in writing that took place in the mid-nineteenth century. It formed in the early to mid nineteenth century and reached it climax around 1850 during an era commonly referred to as the American Renaissance, America’s Golden Day, or the Flowering of New England.

The basic tenets of Transcendentalism involve the relationships between one’s self and the world at large. First, the search for truth in Transcendentalism begins with the individual. The thoughts of Transcendentalist writers must come from themselves and not from others. They could study previous works for inspiration, but they could not take the ideas of others. Transcendentalist writers have complete self-reliance in their ideas. Transcendentalism called for literary, philosophical, and theological independence from Europe, earning the Transcendentalist era the label “American Renaissance.”

Next, Transcendentalism also relates to the rest of the world. It applies individual energies gained through self-reliance to the overall good of society. In Transcendentalism, there is no real evil. For every apparent evil there is a true goodness. Because evil is said not to exist, Transcendentalists believe in the perfectibility of man.

One well-known Transcendentalist author is Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ralph Waldo Emerson was born in New England in 1803. He entered Harvard Divinity College where he trained to become a priest. However, he later withdrew from the ministry because he did not share the same ideals that were imposed on him by church authority. In 1832, Emerson sailed to Europe to flee the despair he felt after the deaths of his wife and bro...


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...using metaphors and rhythms according to his own style.

Literature such as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Nature” and Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden” reflect the tenets of Transcendentalism. They set the foundation for Transcendentalism because Emerson and Thoreau were the “fathers” of the literary movement. Both writers searched for truth and the meaning of life on an individual level that fit their feelings. They demonstrated the perfectibility and self-reliance of individuals. For example, “Walden” tells of Thoreau’s two years of living in the woods relying on himself for food and shelter and trying to simplify his life. He wanted to demonstrate that there was no evil in the simplicity of his forest home. Just as Thoreau’s “Walden” demonstrated Thoreau’s renewal or refreshing of his own spirit, Transcendentalism was the renewal or rebirth of American Literature.

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