American Transcendentalism

American Transcendentalism
“ It was a high counsel that I once heard given
to a young person, always do what you are
afraid to do.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
• A literary movement in the 1830’s that
established a clear “American voice”.
• Emerson first expressed his philosophy in
his essay “Nature”.
• A belief in a higher reality than that
achieved by human reasoning.
• Suggests that every individual is capable of
discovering this higher truth through
• Unlike Puritans, they saw humans and nature as
possessing an innate goodness.
“In the faces of men and women, I see God”
-Walt Whitman
• Opposed strict ritualism and
dogma of established religion.
Transcendentalism: The tenets:
• Believed in living close to
nature/importance of nature. Nature is
the source of truth and inspiration.
• Taught the dignity of manual labor
• Advocated self-trust/ confidence
• Valued individuality/nonconformity/free thought
• Advocated self-reliance/ simplicity
The first transcendentalists
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Margaret Fuller
Henry David Thoreau
Bronson Alcott
“Self-reliance” -Emerson
“There is a time in every man’s education
when he arrives at the conviction that
envy is ignorance; that imitation in
“Trust thyself…”
“What I must do is
all that concerns me,
not what people think…”
“…to be great is to be misunderstood”
• Thoreau began “essential” living
• Built a cabin on land owned to Emerson
in Concord, Mass. near Walden Pond
• Lived alone there
for two years studying
nature and seeking
truth within himself
“I went into 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 has
to teach, and not, when I came to
die, discover that I had not lived.”
“Heaven is under our
feet as well as over our
“Still we live meanly like ants.”
“Our life is frittered away by detail.”
“Why should we live with such hurry and waste of life?”
“Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity. I say, let your affairs be
as two or three and not a hundred or a thousand.”
Beauty in nature…
“How deep the ruts of tradition and
“If a man does not keep pace with his
companions, perhaps it is because he hears a
different drummer. Let him step to the music
he hears, however measured or far away.”
“Civil Disobedience”
• Thoreau’s essay urging passive, nonviolent resistance to governmental policies
to which an individual is morally opposed.
• Influenced individuals such a Ghandi, Dr.
Martin Luther King Jr., and Cesar Chavez
“[If injustice] is of such a nature that it requires you
to be the agent of injustice to another, then, I say,
break the law. Let your life be the friction to stop
the machine.”