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Transcendentalism and Thoreau

Jun 09, 2008 1024 Words
ranscendentalist Essay
“Live life to the fullest.” This quote by Ernest Hemingway was made after the era of transcendentalism, but I believe that the idea came from the transcendentalists. In Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, he writes “I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartanlike as to put to rout all that was not life,” Among Transcendentalists' core beliefs was an ideal spiritual state that 'transcends' the physical and empirical and is only realized through the individual's intuition, rather than through the doctrines of established religions. They promoted ideas of self-reliance, nonconformity, and civil disobedience.

In this experiment I chose to test an idea of self-reliance by not using any form of communication other the face to face, to see if that would simplify my life. In Walden, Thoreau says that people should live life in the simplest way possible and “as long as possible live free and uncommitted.” Electronic devices such as the telephone and the internet, are making communication easier, but in turn are making life more complex. If people are limited to only being able to communicate by word of mouth, then that would give us less work to do and less stress because we are physically limited to being able to complete our tasks. In turn, this would help us become more connected to nature because we couldn’t rely on unnatural means to get our work done.

After a week of this experiment I realized that my theory did not simplify my life at all. However, it was not a failed experiment because it did what it was supposed to do, hindering my ability to work. Everyday when I get back home, I am required to call my mother to tell her that I was home safe. This experiment disallowed me the action and when I my mother got home, she reprimanded me for not calling her. That same day I had to study for a chemistry test, but I had forgotten the study guide and instead of just reading up on the important facts, I had to read the entire book. The rest of the week continued the same way. There was an incident when my garage wouldn’t open and I couldn’t call the house phone to tell people to let me inside because the doorbell wouldn’t ring. This experiment was not that hard for me to do, it just limited my ability to communicate with other people, which is something my parents had been trying to do. It made me less reliant on other people and I finished more things by myself.

This experiment did not change my view on other society, rather it further support it, because I had already thought that people were making their own lives more complicated. Thoreau questions, “Why should we be in such desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises?” This I wonder too, because nowadays everywhere you look, its just people rushing here and there trying to get whatever they need to, done, and “live what was not life” as Thoreau said he did not wish to do. However, I think that people have justified reason to behave the way they do. Ralph Waldo Emerson, in Experience, writes about our tendency to devalue our own lives and experiences, while unduly revering others. This is exactly what people do now because everyday they just try to achieve what the considered “elite” in our society have. There is a certain set of standards that society sets that most people feel the need to live up to. In Self-Reliance, Emerson tells us to “Accept the place the divine providence has found for you:” This makes me question all the actions we do today. If the divine providence has already found a place for us, then why do we work so hard to achieve when in the end our destiny is already predetermined?

I don’t believe that transcendentalism can be implemented in a real society because society would not accept its ideas. Thoreau writes in Walden, “Things do not change; we change.” I think that this statement should be altered to “we change because things change.” If life would not keep moving without us, then we never have to feel the need to keep up. If we accepted the place that we were already given, then no one would work and life would be simple because everyone already had a place in society. Thoreau exclaims, “How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity!” I agree with this statement, and this is why transcendentalism did not reach the minds of the people. Tradition and conformity is what people think are safe, because once they differ from the rest of the world, nothing they believe in, or do, is accepted because it does not go along with the norm.

During my experiment, when I could not do a certain part of my chemistry project, my partners would do it for me. If I was not able to talk to anyone, they would find a time to confront me face to face. But everything in life we have made more complex by giving ourselves tasks to do. “Necessity is the mother of invention” but did we really need to do all this work? The reason why I do not think transcendentalism can be used in our society is because I believe that we have gone past the point of being able to keep our lives simple. People call ahead to try and schedule appointments, make meetings, and commit themselves so that they have a set structural calendar to follow. Thoreau tells us to live as long as possible free and uncommitted, but I think that we are born into a society with our place and expectations. In this regard I agree with Emerson in Self-Reliance but even if we do not have any, we make our own requirements. I quote Confucius, "Life is really simple, but we insist on making it complicated."

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