Trancendentalism

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Transcendentalism was a philosophy that became influential during the 1800's. It was based on the belief that knowledge is not limited to and solely derived from experience and observation but from the truths seem through reason. In the United Sates, transcendentalism became both a philosophy and a literary, religious, and social movement. Emphasis was placed mainly on oneness with nature and God while making the possibility of social change a reality. Ralph Waldo Emerson was the leading American transcendentalist whose theories were a primary influence in transcendentalist thought and writing. Through the knowledge and direction of Ralph Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne and Henry David Thoreau also became leading scholars of their time by means of their influence on early American intellectual history and literature.

"Transcendentalists were influenced by romanticism, particularly in the areas of self-examination, individualism, and the beauties of nature and humankind. Fixed by the Prospect of shaping the literary traditions of a new nation, the American Romantics tended to issue pronouncements about fundamentals, for example, the role of the artist in expressing, even creating, a national identity. Henry David Thoreau advocated American expression supported by Romantic-transcendentalist theories of organicism articulated by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Nathaniel Hawthorne justified an indigenous romance fiction to plumb the depths of the human heart" (Allison, 1). They believed that a direct connection between the universe and the individual soul existed. Intuition, rather than reason, was regarded as the highest human ability

"Transcendental philosophy was based on the premise that truth is innate in all of creation and that the knowledge of it is intuitive rather than rational" (Wilson, 3). Other philosophies include returning to the simpler things of life and that man should love nature and learn from it. "Hawthorne, in his purpose to reveal the truth of the human heart, placed man in nature" (Elder, 49). "It is the true, the beautiful, the spiritual essence in nature and man. This grand and beautiful idea, of which diverse nature seems to be part, is the high reality-invisible, and truer and more real than what we can see with the eyes and touch with the finger" (Elder, 23).

Ralph Waldo Emerson's tendency of thought is toward the idealist philosophy in which soul and intuition are central. Taking a rational, yet poetic interest in all of nature and individuals, Emerson stresses the potential for intellect and creativity in all people. "Nothing is possible within our distinctively human world without creative insight and interpretation. His attention to what it means to make something new and his concern about the influence of the past, of books and monuments, mark him as an important figure in the production of a national literature" (Carr, 10). The Over-soul is the philosophy that the nature in which we reside creates our world in depth by means of our insight and interpretations. Emerson's emphasis on nonconformity and integrity shows that the Over-soul creates a world through individuals; a thought that is similar to the romantic nationalism of nineteenth century Europe. "Emerson provides a framework for flexible relations to the world around us.

American romantics, like their British and European predecessors, sought to revitalize the concepts of self, nature, and society in a climate of intellectual skepticism" (Allison, 1). Through British critical theory, Emerson asserts the miracle of nature perceived through symbols and supernaturalism. His theories profoundly influenced those of his successors and all subsequent American writing. "From his moment to ours, American authors either are in his tradition, or else in a counter tradition-originating to oppose him" (Bloom, 67). Through his extensive writings of books, essays and poetry, Henry David Thoreau gave the American public a deep insight to the new world of transcendentalism. "He embraced Emerson's idea that poetic language could link the divine in the self with the divine in nature.

But Thoreau' s rigorous, independent mind converted Emerson's transcendentalism into a theory of writing as a mode of life" (Allison, 2). Through this, he was able to demonstrate how the abstract ideals of libertarianism and individualism can be instilled in a person's life. "Thoreau insisted that the true artist establishes an original relation to the universe by dwelling in a certain way, a way reflected by form and style" (Allison, 2). "As he stresses, a true style results in the very language that the transcendentalists wished to employ: Nature is ransacked, and all the resorts and purlieus of humanity are taxed, to furnish the fittest symbol for thought" (Allison, 3). "Thoreau is important not only as a critic of the status quo and as a genuine and perceptive analyst of society but also as one of the masterful stylists in American literature, notable for his descriptive ability, his command of epigrammatic statement, his use of symbolic analogy, and his sense of language" (Bercovitch, 128).

"His classicism leads him to advise Carlyle and others to temper mannerism; Thoreau' s ideas about originality of style and emancipating the language forecast the American vernacular of writers such as Mark Twain, William Faulkner, and Ernest Hemingway" (Allison, 3). "As a moralist and a romance, Nathaniel Hawthorne was the first great American writer of fiction to work in the moralistic tradition, which can be traced down through Henry James and William Faulkner" (Bercovitch, 245). "His romance balances reality and imagination, intellect and emotion, masculinity and femininity, past and present" (Allison, 4). Hawthorne is recognized as a central writer of his time primarily because of his interest in human psychology, and his exploration into the dark side of human consciousness. "The problem of guilt fascinated him, and his romances generally dealt with legacies from the past, conscience, and expiation.

These themes he explored within the framework of Puritan culture with an artistry that won him a high place among the novelists of the nineteenth century" (Bercovitch, 86). "To explore the themes of sin, guilt, and punishment Hawthorne used the symbolism and allegory that he located in texts" (Allison, 4). "Although Hawthorne has been criticized for a limited range of theme and character, his acute handling of moral problems, and his insight into character place him among the great fictional artists" (Bercovitch, 97). "Transcendentalism was an episode in the intellectual life of New England; an enthusiasm, a wave of sentiment, a breath of mind..Its influence on thought and life was immediate and powerful. Religion felt it, literature, laws, and institutions.

The various reforms owed everything to it. New England received from it a impetus that will never be spent" (Elder, 45). "The lasting influence of the Transcendentalists rests in the endurance of the major writings produced by the movement as American classics, worth reading in any period, and in the powerful inspiration that their reform efforts provided to later social movements" (Wilson, 4). Transcendentalism was one of the most important movements of the nineteenth century that was forever immortalized by innovative authors such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne and their works of literature. The theory embodied ideals that, if taken to heart, had the potential to create a better understanding of the soul.

If people could connect their individual soul with the universe, they could fulfill their potential in life. The impact that Emerson, Thoreau, and Hawthorne had on transcendental philosophy and literature brought about a whole new realm of thought and understanding to American intellect and literature. The shape of their philosophies, although altered to reflect the existing modem thought and value, can be seen in the writings of Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, John Burroughs and the teachings of modem day oracles such as Gandhi. The impact, felt by all social institutions, created a new sense of identity and freedom in the American people that can be recognized in the many social movements of the subsequent generations.

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