American Transcendentalism Emerson’s “Self-Reliance” Thoreau’s Walden *www.learner.org * www.csustan.edu
Emerson (1803-1882) Ralph Waldo Emerson was the preeminent philosopher, writer, and thinker of his day, best known for articulating the Transcendentalist ideals of creative intuition, self-reliance, and the individual's unlimited potential. Transcendentalist
Transcendentalism A nineteenth-century group of American writers and thinkers who believed that only by transcending the limits of rationalism and received tradition could the individual fully realize his or her potential. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, and Henry David Thoreau are among the most influential Transcendentalists.
Transcendentalism 1. spiritual, 2. philosophical and 3. literary movement and is located in the history of American Thought as: (a). Free thinking in religious spirituality (b). Idealistic in philosophy and (c). Romantic and individualistic in literature.
Transcendentalism and the American Past Transcendentalism represented a complex response to the democratization of American life, to the rise of science and the new technology, and to the new industrialism - to the whole question, in short, of the redefinition of the relation of man to nature and to other men that was being demanded by the course of history. (Warren,et.al.11-12) * Warren, Robert Penn, Cleanth Brooks, and R. W. B. Lewis. "A National Literature and Romantic Individualism." in Romanticism. eds. James Barbour and Thomas Quirk. NY: Garland, 1986, 3-24.
Transcendental Legacy 1.The influence on contemporary writers: Poe, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, and Dickinson. 2.William James and his ideas on the "subconscious” and modern psychology 3.The influence on Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. M. L. King, Jr. and others who protested using civil disobedience. 4.The influence on the "beat" generation of the 1950s and the "young radicals" of the '60s and '70s who practiced dissent, anti-materialism, anti-war, and anti-work ethic sentiments. 5.The influence on Modernist writers like: Frost, Stevens, O'Neill, Ginsberg. 6.The popularity of Transcendental Meditation, Black Power, Feminism, and sexual freedoms.
Romantic Individualism The belief that individuals are endowed with not only reason but also an intuition that allows them to receive and interpret spiritual truths. Individuals thus have a responsibility to throw off the shackles of traditions and inherited conventions in order to live creatively according to their own unique perception of truth. Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance" is often considered to be a manifesto of Romantic Individualism.
Nonconformity Despite controversies provoked by some of his work, Emerson's impassioned calls for Americans to reject their deference to old, European traditions and to embrace experimentation were received with enthusiasm by a generation of writers, artists, and thinkers who strove to embody his ideals of American art.
“Self-Reliance”: A Closer Look 1. Select favorite aphorisms from the text. –Why? What do you find particularly meaningful or illuminating? 2. Is there a particular theme that links the collection of thoughts together? 3. How does Emerson organize this essay: paragraphs, sections, analogies? 4. Personal connections: homework reflection