Transcendentalism and Romanticism

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Throughout time there have been many literary movements, many of which become forgotten over time. However they should not be forgotten because they have shaped American literature into what it is today. Two of the more important literary movements of the late 18th century to the early 19th century are transcendentalism and romanticism.

Transcendentalism was a literary movement in the first half of the 19th century. Transcendentalists were influenced by romanticism, especially such aspects of self examination, the celebration of individualism, and the exploring the beauties of nature and of humankind. According to them, fulfilling the search for knowledge came when one gained an awareness of beauty and truth, and communicated with nature to find union with the ?Over-Soul?, a term used by Emerson in place of God. When this occurred, one was cleansed of materialistic goals, and was left with a sense of self-reliance and purity. Leaders of this movement include Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Theodore Parker, Bronson Alcott, William Ellery Channing, and Henry David Thoreau. These people were all transcendentalists. Transcendentalists can be seen as a generation of well educated people who lived in the decades before the American Civil War. (Lewis, ?What is Transcendentalism?? ) Transcendentalists deliberately went about creating literature, essays, novels, philosophy, poetry, and other writing that was clearly different from anything from England, France, Germany, or any other European Nation.

The concept of transcendentalism is clearly expressed in the essay "Nature", by Ralph Waldo Emerson. His essay "Nature" tells of how one can gain insight and spiritual cleansing simply from experiencing nature. Emerson tells of how "in the woods is perpetual youth" and "in the woods we return to reason and faith." These lines show the whole concept of transcendentalism. In the following lines, Emerson remarks: "Standing on the bare ground- my head bathed by the blithe air and uplifted into infinite space- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eyeball: I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God."(Emerson, ?Nature?) These lines display the transcendentalist belief that purity and knowledge can be obtained from a union with and understanding of nature.

Emerson also relates the concept of transcendentalism to human life in his essay, "Self-Reliance." In this essay, Emerson talks about another part of transcendentalism, the issue of "self-reliance." He sees mankind as somewhat of a coward and that people never express their true selves. Emerson claims that humans are afraid to fail and no matter what success may come to them, they will never be happy, they always want more. He expresses transcendentalist ideals by saying that a true person would be a non-conformist. Emerson puts this belief into words in the following lines: "There is a time in every man?s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil." These words pretty much sum up the idea of transcendentalism, that one must celebrate the individual in order to find himself one with the universe.

Another significant contribution to the idea of transcendentalism was by the author Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau lived in the same home as Emerson. His most honored and enjoyed work was the story, "Walden". In "Walden", Thoreau explains why he chose the woods: "I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary." Thoreau chose to live in...
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