Transcendentalist Movement Essay Research Paper Transcendentalism was

Transcendentalist Movement Essay, Research Paper

Transcendentalism was a literary movement in the first half of the 19th century.

The philosophical theory contained such aspects as self-examination, the

celebration of individualism, and the belief that the fundamental truths existed

outside of human experience. Fulfillment of this search for knowledge came when

one gained an acute awareness of beauty and truth, and communicated with nature

to find union with the Over-Soul. When this occurred, one was cleansed of

materialistic aims, and was left with a sense of self-reliance and purity. Two

authors who were among the leaders of the movement were Ralph Waldo Emerson and

Henry David Thoreau, whose works "Nature", "Self-Reliance",

and "Walden" brought America to the forefront of the transcendentalist

movement. Their ideas opposed the popular materialist views of life and voiced a

desire for freedom of the individual from artificial restraints. They felt that

if they explored nature thoroughly, they would come to know themselves and the

universal truths better. The concept of transcendentalism is clearly expressed

in the essay "Nature", by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson was a leader in

the movement of transcendentalism and the first American author to influence

European thought. His essay "Nature" tells of how one can gain insight

and spiritual cleansing simply from experiencing nature. Emerson tells of how

"in the woods is perpetual youth" and "in the woods we return to

reason and faith." These lines exemplify the very ideals of

transcendentalism. They show the deep roots a person has in nature and how one

can receive knowledge of their Over-Soul by honestly enjoying the outdoors and

freeing oneself of previous evils. In the following lines, Emerson remarks:

"Standing on the bare ground- my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted

into infinite space- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball:

I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through

me; I am part or parcel of God." These lines display the transcendentalist

belief that purity and knowledge can be obtained from a union with and

understanding of nature. Emerson also relates the concept of transcendentalism

to human life in his essay, "Self-Reliance." In this aptly named

essay, Emerson grapples with another part of transcendentalism, the issue of

"self-reliance." He sees mankind as somewhat of a coward; that people

never express their true selves. Emerson claims that humans are afraid to fail;

they are pleased if successful, but are never happy with where and what they

are. He expresses transcendentalist ideals by saying that a true person would be

a non-conformist. Emerson puts this belief into words in the following lines:

"There is a time in every mans education when he arrives at the conviction

that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for

better, for worse, as his kernel of nourishing corn can come to him

but through his toil." These words are the epitome of the ideals of

transcendentalism- that one must celebrate the individual in order to find

himself one with the universe. Another significant glimpse into the core ideals

of transcendentalism was made by the distinguished author Henry David Thoreau.

Thoreau lived in the home of essayist and philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson. His

most honored and enjoyed work was the story, "Walden", which gives a

forthright statement of his reasons for embracing a contemplative and decidedly

transcendentalist life living on the shore of Walden Pond. In

"Walden", Thoreau explains why he chose the woods: "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. I did not wish to live what was not life,

living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite

necessary." Thoreau himself was quoted as saying, "In wilderness is

the preservation of the world." In "Walden", the author describes

the cardinal importance of nature in ones search of their soul. Thoreau chose to

live in seclusion because he believed solitude was the best companion in order

to know one??s own self. In the essay, he felt that mankind cared too deeply

for material possessions; "simplify!" he implored. Thoreau claimed

that humans were "ruined by luxury and heedless expense" and that

success is gained when one "advances confidently in the direction of his

dreams". Thoreau stressed the importance of the individual, saying "If

a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a

different drummer." His ideas were the foundation of transcendentalism-

individualism, knowledge of nature, and the disposal of material belongings.

Transcendentalism was one of the most important movements of the 19th century.

The theory embodied ideals that, if taken to heart, had the potential to create

a better understanding of the soul. If a person could connect their individual

soul with the universe, they could fulfill their potential in life. One achieved

this through many different ways, ways that are explained and discussed in the

three works mentioned before. Transcendentalism was a fundamental movement that

was forever immortalized by innovative authors and works of literature.


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