American Transcendentalism as defined by yourdictionaty.com is the idealistic philosophical and social movement that developed in reaction to rationalism. American Transcendentalism can be seen all throughout history by the role it’s taken in the abolitionist movement and during the industrial phase. American Transcendentalism is also seen spiritually through nature and God. Finale American Transcendentalism can be seen philosophically by believing in achieving a higher purpose in life. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are two major advocates of this movement, who exemplify these points throughout their stories from Nature and Where I lived and what I lived for.
American Transcendentalism arose as a counter against the ideology that industrialism was a good thing and was helping to improve the economy. “[Man] has no time to be anything but a machine..” This quote from Thoreau’s Where I lived and what I lived for displays how he though machines that came about from the industrial age dehumanized people, and that nature could fix that because it makes up more human. Transcendentalists like Emerson believed that people were too caught up in the new advancements, that they didn’t take the time needed to appreciate what they already had. “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore…” This quote from Emerson’s story from Nature, displays how he believed people don’t seem to appreciate what they have until is gone and they realize that it may never come back.Trancendentalists also took up a role in trying to abolish slavery. In Thoreau’s story Where I lived and what I lived for, he states that “It is never too late to give up your prejudice”. This can be interpreted as Thoreau trying to persuade people into anti-slavery beliefs. Trancentilists Emerson and Thoreau believed that people weren’t trying to become self-reliant and one with nature, and that their morals were wrong for being prejudice and discriminating against slaves.
Furthermore, American Transcendentalism experienced and embraced nature through God. Unlike their counterparts, the Puritans, who viewed God as an all powerful being who they are separated from. Transcendentalists view God through nature and believe that God could possibly exist throughout man. Transcendentalists also believe that nature is a good teacher and that it brings wisdom and inspiration down onto those who follow this ideology and that nature is a good way to connect with the diving spirits; in this case God. “Let us spend one day as deliberately as Nature, and not be thrown off track by every nutshell and mosquito’s wing that falls on the rails.” Thoreau’s quote from Where I lived and what I lived for hilights how transcendentalists believed nature was a good role model on how to “live deliberately” or live your life strategically and follow a specific plan to be able to ensure that your needs are met. Nature to Thoreau was seen as beautiful, prosperous, elegant, and alive. Nature proved to be a good teacher, having left Thoreau with pity for the common man who only desired wealth and luxurious materialistic goods.
In addition, American Transcendentalism philosophy is centred around achieving a higher purpose. Transcendentalists valued the belief that knowledge came about through imagination and intuition, rather then logic and reason. Another value of the Transcendentalists was self reliance. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front the only essential facts of life…” In Thoreau’s Where I lived and what I lived for, this quote displays how transcendentalists believed that in order to live life you had to experience it through nature. Thoreau’s main goal was to live in the simplest way possible, he lived off of what the land gave him, he haunted from his own food, built his own home and lived a life of solitude. By facing these challenges, Thoreau learned what it really meant to live life. “The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other; who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood.” This quote by Emerson’s from Nature conveys the message of how Transcendentalists valued people who had this type of mindset, because of the fact that they believed imagination and creativity was a big part of the Romantics period, which they tried to identify themselves with, and also because they believed in Divinity of Nature as a sacred place and that is was important for man to connect with it.
In conclusion, two famous poets of this time Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau- exemplify these qualities by historical abolitionism and industrialism, spiritually seeing nature through God, and philosicalty achieving a higher purpose in life. American Transcendentalism was an important movement that highlighted intuition, imagination, and simplicity was the way to truly live your life.