Presentation on theme: "Transcendentalism Focus of Study: Transcendentalism A. Background B. Features Representative Writers A. Emerson B. Thoreau."— Presentation transcript:
Transcendentalism Focus of Study: Transcendentalism A. Background B. Features Representative Writers A. Emerson B. Thoreau
Rise of Transcendentalism Emerging around 1815, it has a strong connection with English, European and oriental philosophy. Its first and best published statement is Emerson’s Nature, in which he declares that transcendentalism is idealism as appears in 1842. Some New Englanders, not quite happy with the materialistic-oriented life, formed a transcendentalism club to discuss matters of interest to the life of the nation as a whole.
Major Features 1. The transcendentalists placed emphasis on spirit, or the oversoul, as the most important thing in the universe. The oversoul was an all-pervading power for goodness, omnipresent and omnipotent, from which all things came and of which all were a part. Now, this present a new way of looking at the world. 2. Stressed the importance of the individual. To them the individual was the most important element of society. The ideal type of man was the self-reliant individual. People should depend upon themselves for spiritual perfection if they cared to make effort, because the individual soul communed with the oversoul and was therefore divine.
3. Offered a fresh perception of nature as symbolic of spirit or God. Nature was alive, filled with God’s overwhelming presence. It was the garment of the oversoul. Each object could be viewed as a miniature version of the entire universe. As a cluster of ideas, transcendentalism reoriented American literature in such a decisive way as to bring a body of works, principally by Emerson and Whitman, its proponents, and by Hawthorn and Melville, its skeptical critics. Transcendentalism qualified as an important branch of romanticism.
New English Transcendentalism Definition: The phase of New English Transcendentalism is the summit of American Romanticism. It was in essence romanticism on Puritan soil. It was started by a group of people who were members of an informal club, i.e. the Transcendental Club in New England in the 1830s.They expressed their views, published the journal, The Dial. Transcendentalism has been defined philosophically as "the recognition in man of the capacity of knowing truth intuitively, or of attaining knowledge transcending the reach of the senses". Other concepts that accompanied Transcendentalism include the idea that nature is ennobling and the idea that the individual is divine and, therefore, self-reliant. The representative writers of Transcendentalism are Emerson and Thoreau.
Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882) writer, philosopher, and central figure of American transcendentalism. His poems, orations, and especially his essays are landmarks in the development of American thought and literary expression.
Life Experience 1803, born in Boston, Massachusetts. 1821, graduated from Harvard College. 1829, preaching at Unitarian ministry; married. 1832, doubt about traditional doctrine, resigned; began European travel. 1835, settle in Concord, remarried. 1836, Nature, Transcendental club. 1837, The American Scholar 1838, The Divinity School Address 1840, helped launch the Dial. 1841, Essays, First Series, ("Self-Reliance," "Circles," "The Over-Soul" and "Intellect") 1860, The Conduct of Life
Point of View 1. Emerson’s transcendentalism: The over-soul a. an all-pervading power goodness, from which all things come and of which all are a part. b. a supreme reality of mind, a spiritual unity of all beings and a religion. It is a communication between an individual soul and the universal over- soul. c. he strongly believe in the divinity and infinity of man as an individual, so man can totally rely on himself.
2. His attitude toward nature: Emerson loves nature. His nature is the garment of the over-soul, symbolic and moral bound. Nature is not something purely of the matter, but alive with God’s presence. It exercise a healthy and restorative influence on human beings. Children can see nature better than adult.
Representative Works Nature, helped initiate Transcendentalism and stated his belief: a. one could transcend the materialistic world of sense experience and become conscious of the all-pervading spirit of the universe; b. God could best be found by looking into one's own soul; c. “Nature is the symbol of spirit”; “Make your own Bible”.
The American Scholar Express American people’s desire for cultural independence and literary identity. “Man thinking” to acquire manhood. make right use of three things: Nature; the Past (book, wisely used, become inspirations); Action (life, call on an active participation).
The Divinity School Address Declare a challenge against traditional Christianity. Truth is only attained through intuition, rather than a second-hand experience. Since historical Christianity has begun errors, its influence can be evil. Young man must search his heart, preach his own message. The essay provoked a strong reaction against the faculty.
Writing Style Casual & provocative, his essays, based on speech, tended to stir up the audience. He prefers repeated and varied illustrations to logical argument and detailed description. Sentences are fragmentary, gem-like, and quotable like aphorisms. His poetry noted for concentration on concrete image, the simplicity of symbols and words. Emphasis on content rather than form. A strong influence on Whitman, Dickinson and the modern poetry.
Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) a prose stylist a lover of nature a social philosopher a thorough transcendentalist.
Life Experience 1817, born in Concord, MA. 1833, educated at Harvard University, then taught. 1837, keep a journal at Emerson's suggestion 1845-1847, live alone on shores of Walden Pond. 1849, put in a jail, "Civil Disobedience". 1854, Walden; or, Life in the Woods. 1862, Died in Concord, MA.
Major Works I. "Civil Disobedience" famous and influential essay. Refuse to pay a poll-tax to the government, protest the Mexican-American War. Advocate nonviolent struggle against social injustice. An individualist, distrust group action and prefer to depend on individual reform for the improvement of society.
2.Walden; or, Life in the Woods Give account of his living alone at Walden, supplying his needs by his own labor, developing and test his transcendental philosophy of individualism, self-reliance, and material economy for the sake of spiritual wealth. Theme: a. man should abandon the false existence of extreme material and live a simple and sincere life. True enjoyment comes only when one throws off all unnecessary things. b. show confidence in the individual, the individual can express himself and act on his own principles.
Point of View His feeling for the unity of man and nature. He criticized the madness of his society in industrial development and the accumulation of wealth. His remedy is to return to the naked simplicity of life. His active concern with social issues. He was a dedicated abolitionist and actively helped speed fleeing slaves north on the Underground Railroad while lecturing and writing against slavery.
Writing Style Conventional but clear-cut, sparkling, suggestive, colorful and full of subtle harmony. Behind the seemingly casual style, there is a carefully-worked structure, as in Walden.
Study Questions What are the main tenets of Transcendentalism? How do you interpret the concept of “oversoul”? What are the features of Emerson’s Essays? What are Thoreau’s significances on later writer?
Reference Leighton, Walter. French Philosophers and New-England Transcendentalism. NY: Greenwood P, 1968. Matthiessen, F. O. American Renaissance. London: Oxford UP, 1941. Miller Perry. The Transcendentalists, an Anthology. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1960. Miller, Perry, editor. The American Transcendentalists: Their Prose and Poetry. New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1957. Mott, Wesley T., editor. Encyclopedia of Transcendentalism. Westport, CN: Greenwood P, 1996.