Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and American Transcendentalism - PowerPoint PPT Presentation

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Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and American Transcendentalism


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Title: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and American Transcendentalism

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and
American Transcendentalism
If one advances confidently in the direction of
his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which
he has imagined, he will meet with a success
unexpected in common hours. He will put some
things behind, will pass an invisible boundary
If you have built castles in the air, your work
need not be lost that is where they should be.
Now put the foundations under them
Henry David Thoreau, Walden
What is American Transcendentalism?
  • Idealistic philosophy, spiritual position, and
    literary movement that advocates reliance on
    romantic intuition and moral human conscience
  • Belief that humans can intuitively transcend the
    limits of the senses and of logic to a plane of
    higher truths
  • Value spirituality
  • Direct access to benevolent God
  • Not an organized religion or ritual
  • Divinity of humanity, nature, intellectual
    pursuits, social justice
  • Roughly 1830s-1850s

What is conformity? In what ways and for what
reasons do schools promote conformity? How can
one be an individual in a conformist society? How
does conformity benefit society?
Where does Transcendentalism come from?
  • Spirit of Revivalism Like the Great Awakening,
    Transcendentalism is one of many spiritual
  • Rise of Unitarianism Liberal churches in the
    decline of Calvinist Puritanism looked at
    Christian theology as human-centered rather than
  • Romanticism The emphasis on the individual and
    nature becomes a spiritual connection called the

Who are the Transcendentalists?
  • The influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson
  • Unitarian Intelligentsia rises up around Harvard
    and Yale upper class ministers have the money
    and leisure to pursue philosophical learning.
  • Young liberal and active students question a lack
    of involvement and attention on reform movements
  • Boston Reform Movements
  • Suffrage and Womens Issues
  • Abolition
  • Labor Industrialism and Fear that Individuality
    will be lost
  • Hedges Club, then the Transcendental club.

  • Transcendentalism was, at its core, a philosophy
    of naked individualism, aimed at the creation of
    the new American, the self-reliant man, complete
    and independent
  • Paul P. Reuben

I was given to understand that whatever was
unintelligible would be certainly
transcendental. Charles Dickens I should have
told them at once that I was a transcendentalist.
That would have been the shortest way of telling
them that they would not understand my
explanations. Henry David Thoreau
The Philosophy of Transcendentalism
  • Emphasis on self-reliance achieved through
    exercising ones own moral and spiritual strength
  • Human senses are limited they convey knowledge
    of the physical world, but deeper truths can only
    be grasped through intuition
  • Observations of nature illuminate the nature of
    human beings
  • God, man, and nature are united in the oversoul
  • The individual is the center of the universe
    therefore, all knowledge begins with
  • Nonconformity is key individual should reject
    society in order to remain true to ones own
    sense of self.
  • Concern is for this life, not the afterlife.
    Emerson states, The one things of value in the
    world is the active soul.

The Sublime in Nature
  • Heightened psychological state
  • Overwhelming experience of awe, reverence,
  • Achieved when soul is immersed in grandeur of
  • Sense of transcendence from everyday world

The Over-Soul
  • Through self-reliance and a transcendent
    experience with the sublime in nature, one can
    reconcile body and soul as a part of the
    Over-soul or Universal Soul, the source of all
  • Transcendentalists try to form new society based
    on metaphysical awareness, they want to purify
    society by purifying hearts and minds
  • Transcendentalists are lonely explorers or
    pilgrims outside society and convention

Romanticism Refresher
  • Reaction against Rationalism and the
  • Poetry and art cannot be a thing of logic down
    with strict rhyming, strict meter, and structure.
  • Art emphasizes inspiration, spontaneity, and
  • In NATURE and CHILDHOOD we see universal,
    spiritual truths

Romanticism Refresher
  • Nature is the key to self-awareness if you open
    yourself to nature, you may receive its gifts a
    deeper, more mystical experience of life
  • Nature offers a kind of grace, a salvation from
    mundane evil of everyday life
  • External world of nature actually reflects
    invisible, spiritual reality
  • Self-reliance seek the truth in immediate
    perceptions of the world

The Transcendental Club (ironic?)
  • A group of like-minded thinkers that rises up
    around Concord, Massachusettskind of artists
  • Most are wealthy and liberal so they have the
    time and leisure to ponder philosophical matters
  • Transcendentalist Club begins in 1836writing,
    reading, reform projects
  • The Dial published by the the Transcendentalist
    Club from 1840-1929
  • Utopian communitiesgroups to escape American

Brook Farm
Emerson and his break from Unitarianism
  • Emerson comes from a line of Unitarian ministers.
  • He breaks with the church after the death of his
    first wife.
  • He begins to question God and the church, which
    he feels is too intellectualized, too removed
    from direct experience of God

Seeing is Believing
  • Standing on the bare ground, my head bathed in
    the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space,
    all mean egotism vanishes.
  • I am nothing I see all the currents of the
    Universal Being circulate through me I am part
    or particle of God.
  • Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836

I become a transparent eye-ball
How could a person be a modern Transcendentalist?
What choices would a person make? What would be
the benefits? The costs? Journal extension Can
we live in the world and retain the solitude of
our own mind? How do we avoid being sucked into
consumed society and pressures?
Time and space are awash here
Juxtaposition the act of placing two things
(often abstract ideas) side by side for
comparison or contrast Example The
juxtaposition of luxury and deprivation in
Countee Cullens Saturdays Child emphasizes
the desperate divide that the hopeless see as
impossible to overcome.
who is the better man?
It is easy in the world to live after the
world's opinion it is easy in solitude to live
after our own but the great man is he who in the
midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness
the independence of solitude. -- Ralph Waldo
I thrive best on solitude. If I have had a
companion only one day in a week (unless it were
one or two I could name), I find that the value
of the week to me has been seriously affected. It
dissipates my days, and often it takes me another
week to get over it. -- Henry David Thoreau
the better man debate
Despite their many similarities in belief,
Emerson and Thoreau see the way that a person
opposes society in some fundamentally different
ways, and they express their beliefs in different
ways. As well, Lawrence and Lee portray the men
in very different lights each man with his
strengths and weaknesses. Using your knowledge
of the characters and your inferences of what
their actions reveal about their identity and
values, decide who is the better man? and why?
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