Transcendentalism, a literary, philosophical, and religious movement, rose in New England in the mid nineteenth century. Transcendentalism first started as a religious concept, then transformed to the ideas of American democracy and literature. This was the first distinctive movement for American individualism. Transcendentalists believed that this literature gave Americans the idea of nature being divine and the human soul as wise. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are the epitome of Transcendentalist beliefs and were famous during this era of literature. Both men have a strong belief in human spirit and believe that people can control their own conscience. Henry David Thoreau’s mission of simplifying his life by living in the wilderness expressed a concern that was very common to Transcendentalists that contemporary life was demeaning the human spirit. In Henry David Thoreau’s journal, Walden, his quote, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front the only 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” (Thoreau 237) shows the ideals of self-reliance, importance of nature, and free thought.
This quote of Thoreau’s accurately represents the importance of self-reliance in Transcendentalism. This desire to “live deliberately” in solitude apart from society, is something that forces self-reliance. To be apart from civilization requires a form of self- reliance. In Thoreau's opinion , society corrupts a person's influence. Living in solitude emphasizes reliance on oneself, and makes one man learn how to think for himself away from the comfort of society. This is what he means when he says, “discover that I have not lived.” It sets an example that society will change the way people will think, and men will now live until they find themselves. By doing this, they are able to learn how to live. Self- reliance is the idea that a person should...
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