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Date Submitted: 09/19/2012 02:43 PM

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American Transcendentalism from Thoreau and Emerson

The works of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau represent their transcendentalist beliefs of nature’s influence on man and of the call to individuality. Transcendentalism (from the word “transcend”) is a philosophical movement that took place in the 1830’s to the 1840’s starting with a man named Ralph Waldo Emerson. He was born in Boston and grew up to become a priest, and then a lecturer. These past experiences he had obviously contributed to his transcendentalist ideas. Emerson developed an idea of an “over soul” of some sort that connects human beings to nature and to God. Without nature, a human cannot truly get to God. His ideas were subsequently tested by his protégée Henry Thoreau. Born in 1817, Thoreau was always an eccentric person, questioning others’ authorities and rules. He went to the woods and lived next to Walden Pond after learning about transcendentalism from Emerson himself. Both of these were led by nature and were trying to accomplish all they could in life. They believed the only way to do this was to do what you wanted; in other words, stick to your own beliefs and don’t follow society. Because of this, the second main point in transcendentalism that is followed after glorifying nature is to follow one’s self in life and to be an individualist. Emerson discusses transcendentalism in his works Nature and Snowstorm, and Self Reliance, and Thoreau in Walden and Civil Disobedience.

Emerson constantly glorifies nature in his works. For example, in Nature, Emerson says, “I am glad to the brink of fear” (Emerson 388) when describing his interactions with nature. This describes at what extent Emerson loves being with nature. He is extremely content, excited, and ecstatic when talking about the matter of nature. He is basically saying that it’s too good to be true. Emerson, also gives a very important quote that talks about the over soul, “Yet it is certain that the power to produce this...