Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, and American Transcendentalism If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours. He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary… If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them… – Henry David Thoreau, Walden What is American Transcendentalism? Idealistic philosophy, spiritual position, and literary movement that advocates reliance on romantic intuition and moral human conscience Belief that humans can intuitively transcend the limits of the senses and of logic to a plane of “higher truths” Value spirituality Direct access to benevolent God Not an organized religion or ritual Divinity of humanity, nature, intellectual pursuits, social justice Roughly 1830s-1850s What is conformity? In what ways and for what reasons do schools promote conformity? How can one be an individual in a conformist society? How does conformity benefit society? Where does Transcendentalism come from? Spirit of Revivalism: Like the Great Awakening, Transcendentalism is one of many spiritual revivals. Rise of Unitarianism: Liberal churches in the decline of Calvinist Puritanism looked at Christian theology as humancentered rather than God-centered. Romanticism: The emphasis on the individual and nature becomes a spiritual connection called the over-soul. Who are the Transcendentalists? The influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson Unitarian Intelligentsia rises up around Harvard and Yale: upper class ministers have the money and leisure to pursue philosophical learning. Young liberal and active students question a lack of involvement and attention on reform movements Boston Reform Movements: Suffrage and Women’s Issues Abolition Labor: Industrialism and Fear that Individuality will be lost Hedge’s Club, then the Transcendental club. Transcendentalism “Transcendentalism was, at its core, a philosophy of naked individualism, aimed at the creation of the new American, the self-reliant man, complete and independent” – Paul P. Reuben Transcendentalism “I was given to understand that whatever was unintelligible would be certainly transcendental.” – Charles Dickens “I should have told them at once that I was a transcendentalist. That would have been the shortest way of telling them that they would not understand my explanations.” – Henry David Thoreau The Philosophy of Transcendentalism Emphasis on self-reliance – achieved through exercising one’s own moral and spiritual strength Human senses are limited; they convey knowledge of the physical world, but deeper truths can only be grasped through intuition Observations of nature illuminate the nature of human beings God, man, and nature are united in the oversoul The individual is the center of the universe; therefore, all knowledge begins with self-knowledge. Nonconformity is key; individual should reject society in order to remain true to one’s own sense of self. Concern is for this life, not the afterlife. Emerson states, “The one things of value in the world is the active soul.” The Sublime in Nature Heightened psychological state Overwhelming experience of awe, reverence, comprehension Achieved when soul is immersed in grandeur of nature Sense of transcendence from everyday world The Over-Soul Through self-reliance and a transcendent experience with the sublime in nature, one can reconcile body and soul as a part of the Over-soul or Universal Soul, the source of all life. Transcendentalists try to form new society based on metaphysical awareness, they want to purify society by purifying hearts and minds Transcendentalists are lonely explorers or pilgrims outside society and convention Romanticism Refresher Reaction against Rationalism and the Enlightenment Poetry and art cannot be a thing of logic; down with strict rhyming, strict meter, and structure. Art emphasizes inspiration, spontaneity, and naturalness In NATURE and CHILDHOOD we see universal, spiritual truths Romanticism Refresher Nature is the key to self-awareness; if you open yourself to nature, you may receive its gifts: a deeper, more mystical experience of life Nature offers a kind of grace, a salvation from mundane evil of everyday life External world of nature actually reflects invisible, spiritual reality Self-reliance: seek the truth in immediate perceptions of the world The Transcendental Club (ironic?) A group of like-minded thinkers that rises up around Concord, Massachusetts—kind of artists’ colony Most are wealthy and liberal – so they have the time and leisure to ponder philosophical matters Transcendentalist Club begins in 1836—writing, reading, reform projects The Dial: published by the the Transcendentalist Club from 1840-1929 Utopian communities— groups to escape American materialism Brook Farm Emerson and his break from Unitarianism o o o Emerson comes from a line of Unitarian ministers. He breaks with the church after the death of his first wife. He begins to question God and the church, which he feels is too intellectualized, too removed from direct experience of God Seeing is Believing “Standing on the bare ground,— my head bathed in the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature, 1836 How could a person be a modern Transcendentalist? What choices would a person make? What would be the benefits? The costs? Journal extension – Can we live in the world and retain the solitude of our own mind? How do we avoid being sucked into consumed society and pressures? Time and space are awash here Juxtaposition: the act of placing two things (often abstract ideas) side by side for comparison or contrast Example: The juxtaposition of luxury and deprivation in Countee Cullen’s “Saturday’s Child” emphasizes the desperate divide that the hopeless see as impossible to overcome. who is the better man? “It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude.” -- Ralph Waldo Emerson “I thrive best on solitude. If I have had a companion only one day in a week (unless it were one or two I could name), I find that the value of the week to me has been seriously affected. It dissipates my days, and often it takes me another week to get over it.” -- Henry David Thoreau the better man debate Despite their many similarities in belief, Emerson and Thoreau see the way that a person opposes society in some fundamentally different ways, and they express their beliefs in different ways. As well, Lawrence and Lee portray the men in very different lights – each man with his strengths and weaknesses. Using your knowledge of the characters and your inferences of what their actions reveal about their identity and values, decide… who is the better man? and why?