American Transcendentalism - Gill-English

American Transcendentalism
Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”
Thoreau’s Walden
Emerson (1803-1882)
• Ralph Waldo Emerson was the preeminent
philosopher, writer, and thinker of his day,
best known for articulating the
Transcendentalist ideals of creative
intuition, self-reliance, and the individual's
unlimited potential.
• A nineteenth-century group of American
writers and thinkers who believed that only
by transcending the limits of rationalism
and received tradition could the individual
fully realize his or her potential.
• Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller,
and Henry David Thoreau are among the
most influential Transcendentalists.
• 1. spiritual, 2. philosophical and 3.
literary movement and is located in the
history of American Thought as:
(a). Free thinking in religious spirituality
(b). Idealistic in philosophy and
(c). Romantic and individualistic in
Transcendentalism and the
American Past
• Transcendentalism represented a complex
response to the democratization of
American life, to the rise of science and
the new technology, and to the new
industrialism - to the whole question, in
short, of the redefinition of the relation of
man to nature and to other men that was
being demanded by the course of history.
* Warren, Robert Penn, Cleanth Brooks, and R. W. B. Lewis. "A National Literature and Romantic Individualism." in Romanticism. eds.
James Barbour and Thomas Quirk. NY: Garland, 1986, 3-24.
Transcendental Legacy
1. The influence on contemporary writers: Poe,
Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman, and Dickinson.
2. William James and his ideas on the "subconscious” and
modern psychology
3. The influence on Mahatma Gandhi, Rev. M. L. King, Jr.
and others who protested using civil disobedience.
4. The influence on the "beat" generation of the 1950s and
the "young radicals" of the '60s and '70s who practiced
dissent, anti-materialism, anti-war, and anti-work ethic
5. The influence on Modernist writers like: Frost, Stevens,
O'Neill, Ginsberg.
6. The popularity of Transcendental Meditation, Black
Power, Feminism, and sexual freedoms.
Romantic Individualism
• The belief that individuals are endowed with not
only reason but also an intuition that allows
them to receive and interpret spiritual truths.
• Individuals thus have a responsibility to throw off
the shackles of traditions and inherited
conventions in order to live creatively according
to their own unique perception of truth.
• Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance" is often
considered to be a manifesto of Romantic
• Despite controversies provoked by some
of his work, Emerson's impassioned calls
for Americans to reject their deference to
old, European traditions and to embrace
experimentation were received with
enthusiasm by a generation of writers,
artists, and thinkers who strove to embody
his ideals of American art.
“Self-Reliance”: A Closer Look
• 1. Select favorite aphorisms from the text.
– Why? What do you find particularly
meaningful or illuminating?
2. Is there a particular theme that links the
collection of thoughts together?
3. How does Emerson organize this essay:
paragraphs, sections, analogies?
4. Personal connections: homework reflection