Thoreau On Transcendentalism Essay, Research Paper
The writings of Henry David Thoreau are manifestations of transcendental thought in a variety of ways. First and foremost is the aspect of the individual defiance against established orders of society. Thoreau conveys strong sentiments toward the beliefs in the essential unity of creation and the goodness of humanity. Another key element to transcendental thought is the supremacy of insight over logic and reason, in which Thoreau was a devoted disciple. Through his various essays, Thoreau expressed every one of the major transcendental themes, making him one of the most inspiring writers of his time. He is now remembered as a great American Romanticist, and environmental conservationist.
Thoreau places immense emphasis on insight and thought rather than logic and rationale. Thoreau believes that the ability of the mind to formulate it’s own opinions is one of the paramount feature of human beings. Thoreau tells us in Life without Principle that “The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.” The thought process and the sharing of it with others is what Thoreau considers to be the finest form of communication between people. Feelings and impressions drawn from nature are of more importance than solid, earthly logic. In Walking, Thoreau comments “My desire for knowledge is intermittent; but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant.” He doesn’t bother to concern himself with the concrete information in his learning, but rather investigates foreign places and ideas with an open mind, ready to take these sensations. Gaining wisdom from these experiences through personal insight as opposed to being told what to think is what Thoreau finds of utmost importance in life and a substantial component of transcendental thought.
The theory that all humans are equal and possess the skills to successfully coexist was a radical notion during the time of transcendentalism, but one that Thoreau tackled with full force. He was horrified at the hypocrisy of his nation’s government in its dealings with its self-made institution of chattel slavery. In Life without Principle, Thoreau anguishes over the tragic truth that “America is said to be the arena on which the battle of freedom is to be fought; but? he is still the slave of an economical and moral tyrant.” That tyrant he speaks of is slavery, for he feels that no nation can call itself free when millions of its inhabitants are forced to live in lifelong servitude. In the same essay, again Thoreau asks, “Do we call this the land of the free? What is it to be free from King George and continue the slaves of King Prejudice?” He is reiterating himself, claiming that there is no use in promoting our victory in the Revolution for freedom from British rule when a massive portion of the populace is enslaved to the very same people that fought for their own freedom. Without this significant belief, Thoreau could not be considered a true transcendentalist.
The final and most momentous transcendental doctrine that Thoreau asserted in his writings, was his constant state of rebellion against permanent fixtures in American society. His favored target of criticism was the American political system. He was convinced that the establishment was corrupt and ineffective in such a way that it was a disgrace to American citizens. In Civil Disobedience, Thoreau declares with perhaps his most famous quote, “That government is best which governs not at all.” According to Thoreau, the ineptitude of the political leaders, far outweighs any good they could conceivably accomplish. The only solution left was to remove all power from the government. Another anti-government sentiment, expressed in Slavery in Massachusetts, has Thoreau asserting that “They who have been breed in the school of politics fail now and always to face the facts.” In essence, Thoreau is alleging that politicians ignore reality when it doesn’t benefit them. These men postpone action on important issue as to avoid controversy, and as a result debt and tension build in the country. This tactic of attacking established institutions is an exceedingly important transcendental constituent.
Thoreau is an exemplary example of a transcendentalist. This much is evident in his writings. He addresses such issues as slavery, politics, and knowledge, all of which he has firm and lucid opinions on. The reader catches a glimpse of the man and his beliefs through his writings, however this much is true: Thoreau is the foremost transcendentalist of all time.