Transcendentalism, Romanticism, and Dark Romanticism all come

** Transcendentalism, Romanticism, and Dark Romanticism all come together to
make up the American Renaissance = within one generation after Rationalism and
the Revolutionary War, American literature is placed among literatures of the
western world!! Think about the influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David
Thoreau, Washington Irving, Edgar Allan Poe, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel
Hawthorne – America’s early literary giants!!!!
1830s and 1840s
Historical Background:
Transcendentalism began as a response to the Industrial Revolution, which
emphasized mass production and the belief that machines could replace humans.
The individual is no longer important.
Other technological advancements, like new roads, canals, railroads, and
telegraph lines further devalued the individual. The massive changes made some
people fear that basic American values, like individuality, were being lost.
Also, religious institutions downplayed the importance of the individual
So, a new literary movement appeared that believed that no institution, whether political,
economic, or religious, was as powerful as the INDIVIDUAL. (key word for
Transcendental unit) = Transcendentalism
Key Characteristics of Transcendentalism:
- belief that the individual human mind is the most important force in the
- everything in the world, including human beings, is a reflection of the Over-Soul,
a universal spirit to which all beings returned after they die. God, humanity, and
nature are united in a shared universal soul
- believed that the basic truths of the universe lie beyond the knowledge we obtain
from our physical senses (beyond what we simply hear, see, smell, etc). In other
words, human senses are limits b/c we only know the physical world, but with
intuition deeper truths can be grasped!!!
- So, the Transcendentalists valued intuition, the individual, nature, and optimism.
- The physical facts of the natural world are a doorway to the spiritual world,
where humans can connect to God and nature.
- People must use their intuition to behold God’s spirit revealed in nature or in
their own souls. The observation of nature illuminates the nature of human
- Unlike the Puritans, they believed that through God and intuition, everyone could
directly experience God, not a just an “elect” few.
- Believed that man is inherently good b/c of the goodness of the Over-Soul. Very
optimistic outlook (very different from Edgar Allan Poe and the other Dark
- Believed in self reliance = an individual must outweigh external authority and
blind conformity to custom and tradition. Don’t conform!!! Be your own
person!!! Be an individual!!!
- Spontaneous feelings, imagination, and intuition are superior to deliberate and
logical intellectualism and rationality.
- They were abolitionists (opposed to slavery)
Key Transcendentalist Groups and Places:
1) Transcendentalist Club
- a group of intellectuals who gathered together regularly to discuss philosophy,
religion, and literature.
- Included Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, educator Bronson Alcott,
feminist writer Margaret Fuller, and writer George Ripley
- Worked together to create transcendentalist philosophy
- Emerson’s essay “Nature” is their unofficial statement of belief.
Brook Farm
a utopian community located in Massachusetts
Founded in 1841 by Transcendentalist Club
Eventually went into debt and closed in 1847
The Dial
The country’s first literary journal/magazine
Co-editors were Margaret Fuller and Ralph Waldo Emerson
The journal was published four times a year; it only ran for four years.
4) Walden Pond
- Henry David Thoreau’s retreat was a rough cottage in the woods at Walden Pond.
- He wanted to put into action all of the Transcendental philosophies, so he left the
city to live alone in a simple, bare house.
- He disregarded material things and tried to live a simple life in harmony with
- He lived there for two years and wrote his famous collection of essays, Walden.
Key Terms to Help YOU Understand Transcendentalism:
1) utopia – noun An ideally perfect place, especially in its social, political, and moral
2) Transcend – verb (1) To pass beyond the limits of: emotions that transcend
understanding. (2) To be greater than, as in intensity or power; surpass: love that
transcends infatuation. (3) To exist above and independent of (material
experience or the universe):
3) Intuition – noun The act or faculty of knowing or sensing without the use of
rational processes; immediate cognition; A sense of something not evident or
deducible; an impression; a gut feeling