The Influences of Transcendentalism and Beyond Essay

The Influences of Transcendentalism and Beyond Essay.

The Transcendentalist movement occurred over 150 years ago but the philosophies that its’ leaders preached affect our world to this day. Transcendentalists such as Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson have had a profound effect on such historical figures as Martin Luther King and Mahatma Gandhi to Barack Obama and Ronald Reagan. A thorough understanding of Transcendentalist dogma is necessary if you want to fully comprehend 20th century history.

The Transcendentalist movement originated in Concord, Massachusetts during the middle part of the 17th century; the group was formed by prominent intellectuals including George Putnam, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Fredrick Henry Hedge, Orestes Brownson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau.

(vcu. edu/engweb/transcendentalism/) Emerson’s publication of the essay “Nature” in 1836 is considered to be the beginning of Transcendentalism as a major cultural movement.

The central ideas presented by the Transcendentalists include a questioning of society and culture, nonviolent resistance to oppressive forms of government, reliance on ones’ self, and a minimalistic life style.

The Transcendentalists beliefs of self reliance and nonviolent resistance for the good of the community as articulated in essays like “Self Reliance”, “Walden”, and “Civil Disobedience” directly informed Martin Luther King’s nonviolent tactics such as those used in Montgomery Alabama to end racial segregation in the U. S.

south in the 1960s and Barack Obama’s political philosophy which appears to be pragmatic, reflective, and peaceful. Perhaps the most important essays written by the Transcendentalists are Thoreau’s “Civil Disobedience” and Emerson’s “Self Reliance”. In Civil Disobedience, Thoreau outlines his belief in nonviolent resistance to unjust laws. In his autobiography, Martin Luther King states, “Here, in this courageous New Englander’s refusal to pay his taxes and his choice of jail rather than support a war that would spread slavery’s territory into Mexico, I made my first contact with the theory of nonviolent resistance.

Fascinated by the idea of refusing to cooperate with an evil system, I was so deeply moved that I reread the work several times. ” (THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. , pg 00) This quote shows the full extent which Civil Disobedience influenced Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement in general. We can say with almost complete certainty that Thoreau would have supported the Civil Rights movement. Thoreau was an avid abolitionist, and this hate for slavery would have easily carried over into a hatred of segregation.

Throughout his life, Thoreau preached that nonviolent resistance must be the answer to unjust laws. That belief has never been more fully realized than in the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Martin Luther King and his followers used Thoreau’s own nonviolent tactics against the unjust laws which hampered society in the South. MLK makes it clear that his nonviolent tactics were directly influenced by Thoreau when he writes in his autobiography “As a result of his writings and personal witness, we are the heirs of a legacy of creative protest.

The teachings of Thoreau came alive in our civil rights movement; indeed, they are more alive than ever before. Whether expressed in a sit-in at lunch counters, a freedom ride into Mississippi, a peaceful protest in Albany, Georgia, a bus boycott in Montgomery, Alabama, these are outgrowths of Thoreau’s insistence that evil must be resisted and that no moral man can patiently adjust to injustice. ” (THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.

, pg 00) Actually citing Thoreau in his writing, we clearly see that Martin Luther King was truly a disciple of Henry David Thoreau. It is MLK’s use of Thoreau’s nonviolent tactics which set him apart from more violent civil rights leaders such as Malcolm X and makes Martin Luther King the most successful leader of the civil rights movement. If Thoreau was alive today would he approve of Barack Obama? Thoreau was in favor of an unobtrusive government that did not interfere with the lives of the American people.

“That government is best which governs least “(CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE, pg. 00). For better or worse, Obama seems to favor a hands-on approach to running the country and Thoreau might have been against that. On the other hand, Obama espouses a balanced political framework which Thoreau would have approved of. In addition to being balanced, Obama also appears to be very reflective which inspires the rest of the country to reflect on how our beliefs and actions affect our country, our communities, our families and ourselves.

Both Thoreau and Obama are for the most part against unrestrained greed-driven capitalism; the effects of which have exploded in and shattered our modern day economy. In Thoreau’s essay “Walden,” he suggests that people should live simply and according to the laws of nature. Thoreau is against fancy houses, fancy clothes, and other similar ostentatious and unnecessary excesses. Likewise Barack Obama has openly criticized those, such as money-mongering executives, who would greedily continue their hedonistic ways on the backs of everyday folks.

Obama wouldn’t disparage hard work that yields material rewards, however there is a point when too much is too much. We must ask ourselves what would Martin Luther King have to say about Barack Obama? King was firmly committed to equal rights for African Americans so he would have seen Obama’s inauguration as a historic moment in the fight against racism. The image of Capitol Mall overflowing with Americans of all races and backgrounds hailing a new era and a new president of African American descent was awe-inspiring.

Starting his epic speech with, “My fellow citizens: I stand here today humbled by the task before us, grateful for the trust you have bestowed, mindful of the sacrifices borne by our ancestors”, (http://bulletin. aarp. org/yourworld/politics/articles/inaugural_2009. html) Obama begins to echo our respected thinkers of the past. Wasn’t that the embodiment of MLK’s “dream”? A black president in the white house with his beautiful family who he cherishes so much representing the ultimate in the American dream and calling for a new generation to uphold the ideals of the past?

This is illustrated well in this excerpt from Obama’s inaugural speech, “We the People have remained faithful to the ideals of our forbearers, and true to our founding documents. ” (Presidential Inaugural Committee | January 20, 2009) Present day visionaries carry on the legacies from Transcendentalists of the past. We embraced the timeless philosophies of Thoreau and Emerson and have put our faith in modern leaders like Martin Luther King and Barrack Obama.

How would MLK have handled the pirate situation where an innocent hard-working ship’s captain was taken hostage by some hoodlum renegade Somalian pirates? How would Thoreau have handled this modern day pirate situation in the waters near Somalia? The outcome does embody the beliefs of good triumphing over evil. Even though Obama had to authorize force to triumph evil, good prevailed; the man who put his life on the line sacrificing himself for his crew, is alive and able to return to his family and New England community. Isn’t that what any of these leaders would’ve chosen to accomplish?

Obama wishes to move forward with issue, “I want to be very clear that we are resolved to halt the rise of piracy in that region and to achieve that goal, we’re going to have to continue to work with our partners to prevent future attacks,” Obama said at a Washington news conference. (By Elizabeth A. Kennedy and Pauline Jelinek, Associated Press Writers, April 13, 2009) Vowing to work with other countries, working to create peace and a humane place for all to live seems to be a noble way to carry on the messages of the Transcendentalists of the past. Work Cited AARP.

“Inauguration 2009. ” AARP Bulletin Today. 16 Nov. 2008. http://bulletin. aarp. org/yourworld/politics/articles/inaugural_2009. html. Civil Disobedience. Quill Pen Classics (October 21, 2008), 2008. Nature King, Martin L. The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. Grand Central Publishing, 2001. Nature. Shambhala (September 9, 2003), 2003. “the web of American Transcendentalism. ” vcu. edu. 4 Dec. 2008. http://www. vcu. edu/engweb/transcendentalism/. Self Reliance. Dover Publications; Unabridged edition (October 13, 1993), 1993. Walden. Digireads. com (January 1, 2005), 2005.

The Influences of Transcendentalism and Beyond Essay

Transcendentalism: the Rebellion Essay

Transcendentalism: the Rebellion Essay.

Transcendentalism, as defined by Dictionary. com, is “any philosophy based upon the doctrine that the principles of reality are to be discovered by the study of the processes of thought, or a philosophy emphasizing the intuitive and spiritual above the empirical? ” (Transcendentalism). This new philosophy created a rebellion and turn away from the traditional religions in the United States. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are two primary authors and promoters of Transcendentalism.

In this paper I will be focusing on Emerson’s Nature and Thoreau’s Walden, or Life in the Woods, from now on to be referred to as simply Walden, to show the rebellion against religion and the quest to know one’s self through a different way.

To begin with, I’ll start with a basic overview of what Transcendentalism was. “Transcendentalism is not a religion (in the traditional sense of the word); it is a pragmatic philosophy, a state of mind, and a form of spirituality?.

[I]t does not reject an afterlife, but its emphasis is on this life” (Reuben).

Transcendentalism has four basic principles, in which the transcendentalists agreed upon. The four principles are 1. An individual is the spiritual center of the universe – and in an individual can be found the clue to nature, history and, ultimately, the cosmos itself?. The structure of the universe literally duplicates the structure of the individual self – all knowledge, therefore, begins with self-knowledge. This is similar to Aristotle’s dictum “know thyself. ” 2. Transcendentalists accepted the neo-platonic conception of nature as a living mystery, full of signs – nature is symbolic.

3. The belief that individual virtue and happiness depend upon self-realization ? this depends upon the reconciliation of two universal psychological tendencies: a. the expansive of self-transcending tendency ? a desire to embrace the whole world ? to know and become one with the world. b. the contracting or self-asserting tendency ? the desire to withdraw, remain unique and separate ? an egotistical existence (Reuben). As you can see, Transcendentalism moved in a different direction than religion. In short, Transcendentalism stressed the individual self and the here and now.

Religion, on the other hand, Prev Page placed emphasis on conforming and the afterlife. The Transcendentalist movement was fueled in most part, as mentioned in the introduction, by Emerson and his work entitled Nature, and Thoreau and his work entitled Walden. I will begin with Emerson’s Nature. “The foregoing generations beheld God and nature face to face; we, through their eyes. Why should we not have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition, and a religion by revelation to us, and not the history of theirs” (Emerson 1110)?

This is how Emerson begins Nature, full of questions as to why we follow the generations before us and not think for ourselves. He goes on to write the proposal and favor of Transcendentalism for a new generation. As the title suggests, Emerson writes about nature, and it’s interconnection with human beings. “We must trust the perfection of the creation so far, as to believe that whatever curiosity the order of things has awakened in our minds, the order of things can satisfy” (Emerson 1111).

With this sentence we can see Emerson emphasizing that “[t]he unity of life and the universe must be realized. There is a relationship between all things [and] one must have faith in intuition, for no church or creed can communicate truth” (Reuben). In chapter five, Emerson continues the connection between man and nature; he also applies the third principle of Transcendentalism here as well. He writes [a] third use which Nature subserves to man is that of Language. Nature is the vehicle of thought, and in a simple, double, and threefold degree. 1.

Words are signs of natural facts. 2. Particular natural facts are symbols of particular spiritual facts. 3. Nature is the symbol of the spirit (Emerson 1118). Transcendentalism states that man and nature are the same, hence the connection between the two. By studying or understanding nature or man, you are studying or understanding the other. This is the message, in my opinion, conveyed and advocated by Emerson. The next Transcendentalist author is Henry David Thoreau and his work Walden. In Walden Thoreau writes and describes his two year stay at his cabin at Walden Pond.

Thoreau places emphasis on self-reliance, closeness to Prev Page nature, and solitude. Thoreau begins chapter four with writing [b]ut while we are confined to books, though the most select and classic, and read only particular written languages, which are themselves but dialects and provincial, we are in danger of forgetting the language which all thins and events speak without metaphor, which alone is copious and standard?. No method nor discipline can supersede the necessity of being forever on the alert.

What is a course of history, or philosophy, or poetry, no matter how well selected, or the best society, or the most admirable routine of life, compared with the discipline of always at what is to be seen? Will you be a reader, a student merely, or a seer (Thoreau 1930-31)? Here Thoreau warns us against relying on just literature as a means of transcending. We need to filter things for ourselves and rely upon ourselves. Thoreau writes about closeness to nature and solitude in chapter four and chapter five. Thoreau writes in chapter four about the closeness of nature.

He writes [s]ometimes, in a summer morning, having taken my accustomed bath, I sat in my sunny doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a revery, amidst the pines and hickories and sumachs, in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around or flitted through the house, until by the sun falling in at my west window, or the noise of some traveler’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time (Thoreau 1931). In chapter five he turns his attention to solitude.

In this chapter he writes [s]ome of my pleasantest hours were during the long rain storms in the spring or fall, which confined me to the house for the afternoon as well as the forenoon, soothed by their ceaseless roar and pelting; when an early twilight ushered in a long evening in which many thoughts had time to take root and unfold themselves (Thoreau 1942). Not only does Thoreau write about solitude, but he writes about the benefits that solitude has provided him. In conclusion, Transcendentalism and religion share a thing in common: both seek to find the answer about the connection between man and fate. Transcendentalism went in a different direction though.

Religion sought to Prev Page answer the connection through a means of conformity, close-mindedness, and that what happens now will affect you in the next. Transcendentalism, on the other hand, and as we can see from Emerson’s Nature and Thoreau’s Walden, or Life in the Woods, advocated solitude, a closeness with nature, and understanding that what happens to one effects another in this life, whether it be a person or thing. Works Cited Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature. ” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed.

Robert S. Levine & Arnold Krupat. 7th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007. 1110-11, 1118. Reuben, Paul P. “Chapter 4: American Transcendentalism (AT): A Brief Introduction. ” PAL: Perspectives in American Literature-A Research and Reference Guide- An Ongoing Project. 24 Feb. 2007. 16 November 2007 . Thoreau, Henry David. “Walden, or Life in the Woods. ” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Robert S. Levine & Arnold Krupat. 7th ed. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, 2007. 1930-31, 1942.

Transcendentalism: the Rebellion Essay

Walden and Transcendentalism Essay

Walden and Transcendentalism Essay.

Henry Thoreau’s masterpiece, Walden or a Life in the Woods, shows the impact transcendentalism had on Thoreau’s worldview. Transcendentalism is a philosophy that asserts the primacy of the spiritual over the material. Transcendentalism puts the emphasis on spiritual growth and understanding as opposed to worldly pleasures. Thoreau’s idea of transcendentalism stressed the importance of nature and being close to nature. He believed that nature was a metaphor for spiritual enlightenment.

A walk in the woods therefore was a search for spiritual enlightenment.

One should look ‘through’ nature, not merely ‘at’ her. In Walden, Thoreau’s idea of transcendentalism is broken into three areas. The first is the importance of the spiritual world as opposed to material wants. He accentuates this idea by explaining how the physical world only exists so that souls can experience life to the fullest. Thoreau speaks a great deal about physical property in the first chapter, entitled “Economy”. He keeps a detailed record of the economic cost of his venture into the woods and explains to his readers his pity for the people who have numerous material possessions.

Thoreau states, “When I have met an immigrant tottering under a bundle which contained his all…I have pitied him, not because that was his all, but because he had all that to carry. ”[1] The second transcendentalism theme is the idea of individuality- the idea that an individual is unique and should act according to his personality and ideals. Individuality is a basic idea of the transcendentalists and they firmly believed that one should search for ‘self-discovery’. Thoreau observed, “Every man is the builder of a temple, called his body, to the god he worships, after a style purely his own, nor can he get off by hammering marble instead.

”[2] He emphasized the “style” as an individual style, one that was distinctive to each person. He even told his readers in Walden that he went into the woods to search for knowledge and truth. Self-discovery and individuality were also attributed to any other characters in Walden that were mentioned. Thoreau takes great pains to describe each character, even down to the farmer’s “wrinkled, sibyl-like, cone-headed”[3] infant in chapter 10, “Baker Farm”. He makes sure his readers understand the unique attributes of each individual in his experiences.

As Thoreau once said, “It is what a man thinks of himself that really determines his fate. ” The final prominent transcendentalism theme expressed in Walden is the importance of experiences. Transcendentalists believed personal experience is how one learned. Literally, people learned everything the hard way. Thoreau demonstrated this clearly in the experiment of living in the woods for two years. He explains in Walden that he wanted to experience living simply for an extended period of time. Notice that Thoreau did not speculate, draw conclusions, or even ask someone who had tried it. The only way, in his mind, that he was going to learn about living simply was to undergo it personally.

In speaking about life in the chapter, “Where I lived and What I Lived For”, Thoreau said,“…if [life] proved to be mean, why then to get the whole and genuine meanness of it, and publish its meanness to the world; or if it were sublime, to know it by experience and be able to give a true account of it in my next excursion. ”[4] He emphasized living and feeling everything to be able to understand life and its meaning. Walden is often viewed as simply a proponent of environmental care and nature. However, it persuades the reader to do much more than take care of nature.

In fact, nature is not even the most prominent ideal in Thoreau’s writings. The thesis of Walden is clearly stated in the first few pages of the book. Thoreau writes, “With respect to luxuries and comforts, the wisest have ever lived a more simple and meager life than the poor…None can be an impartial or wise observer of human life but from the vantage ground of what we should call voluntary poverty. ”[5] The entirety of the “Economy” chapter is devoted to material possessions and Thoreau’s idea that the physical pleasures exist only to help the soul endure. Very little time is spent on the goodness of nature.

When it is mentioned, it is shown, as was stated above, that nature serves as a sort of looking glass to spiritual ideals. Because this book was quoted often by radical groups in 1960-70, Walden became a sign of disobedience and rebellion to the conservative community. However, there are a few ideas of which Christians can approve. The first is non-materialism. Thoreau quotes Matthew 6:19 saying, “By a seeming fate, commonly called necessity, they are employed, as it says in an old book, laying up treasures which moth and rust will corrupt and thieves break through and steal.

It is a fool’s life, as they will find when they get to the end of it, if not before. ”[6] He takes great pains throughout the entire book to make sure his readers understand that material possessions should not be the only thing in which people place all of their happiness. The second idea Christians can applaud is the idea of individuality. As was mentioned above, Thoreau kept the Transcendentalist idea of a person’s individual worth in his writings. Because of this belief, he was one of the most outspoken human rights activists in his lifetime.

He wrote A Plea for Captain John Brown supporting John Brown’s efforts to end slavery. Thoreau said, “I do not believe in erecting statues to those who still live in our hearts, whose bones have not yet crumbled in the earth around us, but I would rather see the statue of Captain Brown in the Massachusetts State-House yard, than that of any other man whom I know. I rejoice that I live in this age, that I am his contemporary. ”[7] His belief in the basic human rights of every man stemmed from his support of individuality and the unique worth of every person on this planet.

Even though there are a few ideas that Christians can applaud in Walden, there is one of which they should be wary. This idea is the idea that rebellion and disobedience towards government is acceptable if one believes the government is wrong. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in his eulogy for Thoreau, articulated this idea, saying that Thoreau opposed the government. Thoreau disrespected government officials by refusing to obey tax laws and paid for it by spending a brief time in jail. However, many people, instead of realizing the negative influence Thoreau was creating, idealized him for his ‘patriotic’ stance.

Thoreau says in Walden, “One afternoon, near the end of the first summer…I was seized and put into jail, because, as I have elsewhere related I did not pay a tax to, or recognize the authority of, the state which buys and sells men, women, and children, like cattle at the door of its senate-house. ”[8] He did not recognize the authority of the government because of the slavery in the country. Even though slavery is immoral, Romans 13:1 clearly states, “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

”[9] The Bible articulates that Christians must be subject to those whom God has placed into authority. Thoreau discourages this idea and instead institutes an attitude of rebellion. Christians should be cautious of this attitude and worldview. Very few instances occur in which Christians should rebel against authority. The only instance where they should rebel is under a government which demands that its citizens disobey God’s orders. Walden was written many years ago and yet, society can still learn from the author’s words.

Whether the ideas are detrimental or helpful, everyone can agree that Thoreau was a strong Transcendentalist with a distinct mindset. This mindset affects everyone who reads his works. Emerson once articulated that Thoreau inspired many around him through his idealistic thinking. Thoreau has inspired, and will continue to inspire, numerous people through his book, Walden or a Life in the Woods. ———————– [1] Henry David Thoreau, Walden ; and Civil Disobedience (New York: Barnes and Nobles Classics, 2003), 56.

[2] Henry David Thoreau, Walden ; and Civil Disobedience (New York: Barnes and Nobles Classics, 2003), 175. [3] Henry David Thoreau, Walden ; and Civil Disobedience (New York: Barnes and Nobles Classics, 2003), 161 [4] Henry David Thoreau, Walden ; and Civil Disobedience (New York: Barnes and Nobles Classics, 2003), 74 (brackets added) [5] Henry David Thoreau, Walden ; and Civil Disobedience (New York: Barnes and Nobles Classics, 2003), 16 [6] Henry David Thoreau, Walden ; and Civil Disobedience (New York: Barnes and Nobles Classics, 2003), 9 [7] “Thoreau–On John Brown,” Virginia Commonwealth University, http://www.vcu. edu/engweb/transcendentalism/authors/thoreau/johnbrown. html (accessed September 15, 2010).

[8] Henry David Thoreau, Walden ; and Civil Disobedience (New York: Barnes and Nobles Classics, 2003), 137 [9] “Passage: Romans 13:1 (ESV Bible Online),” Good News / Crossway Home – Christian Books, Gospel Tracts, and the English Standard Version (ESV) Bible, http://www. gnpcb. org/esv/search/? q=Romans 13:1 (accessed September 15, 2010).

Walden and Transcendentalism Essay