Transcendentalism and american literature

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Presentation for English 491, for the University of Phoenix. Professor Julie Miller.

Presentation for English 491, for the University of Phoenix. Professor Julie Miller.

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  • Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines transcendentalism as “a philosophy that emphasizes the a priori conditions of knowledge and experience or the unknowable character of ultimate reality or that emphasizes the transcendent as the fundamental reality” but for the individuals that were involved in the transcendental movement it meant so much more, it was a way of life. “Although Transcendentalism as an historical movement was limited in time from the mid 1830s to the late 1840s and in space to eastern Massachusetts, its ripples continue to spread throughout American culture. Beginning as a quarrel within the Unitarian church, Transcendentalism developed a momentum of its own as it questioned established cultural forms, tried to reintegrate spirit and matter, and attempted to turn ideas into concrete action. It spread from the spheres of religion and education to literature, philosophy, and social reform. While the Transcendentalists' ambivalence about any communal effort that would compromise individual integrity prevented them from creating lasting institutions, they helped to set the terms for being an intellectual in America.” (Bickman, 2000)
  • “Ralph Waldo Emerson is arguably the most influential American writer of the nineteenth century-the writer with whom numerous other significant writers of the time sought to come to terms.” (Baym, p.488) Emerson was the trend setter of his time, his writing inspired an entire generation. His writing, Self-reliance, which teaches us to trust ourselves, his other work Dial, which was a quarterly periodical that was an outlet for new ideas in the transcendental movement, and most importantly Nature which influenced a number philosophers and writers. ”Emerson’s immediate reward was having the book become the unofficial manifesto for a number of his like-minded friends, who, over the next four years, would meet irregularly and informally in Emerson’s study.” (Baym, p.490) Emerson is also considered to be the “Father” of the Transcendental movement because, as a Boston minister in the Unitarian church he started to develop this new philosophy, one that encouraged the wisdom of the human being over the church. Also Emerson was one of the key figures in establishing the Transcendental club which was a group of individual that meat to discuss the rethinking of spirituality.
  • The Transcendental movement was a movement that mostly affected the liberal New Englanders and Henry David Thoreau was one of the writers taken in by the movement and was most influenced by the Ralph Waldo Emerson, in fact in 1836 Emerson became a friend and mentor to Thoreau. “Thoreau understood that the United States was breaking free of the intellectual chains of Europe. He took his mentor Ralph Waldo Emerson's spirit of self-reliance and built on it. He also built on the philosophy of transcendentalism--the intellectual movement that celebrated heightened consciousness, the power of inspiration, and the divinity of the individual--and melded it with environmental concerns and abolitionism. Individualism, anti-materialism, environmentalism” (Bruno, 2005)Thoreau’s most notable work, Walden, was transcendentalism put into action. ““In the pantheon of American literary icons, Thoreau is our sternest disobedient. He stood alone on his conscience against a nation of temporizers, coming out from a society that could kidnap escaped slaves and steal land from a fellow republic. More, he took such commitment to its extreme, preferring the isolation of virtuous self-reliance to participation in a compromising social contract. Yet in Walden, his narrative of withdrawal, he insistently characterizes his time alone in the woods by means of metaphors of town life.” (Newman, 2009) Thoreau urges people to look inward to find fulfillment which is one of the fundamental principles of the transcendental movement. Also Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience in which he discusses social commentary.
  • “As literary modernism took hold in the twentieth century, Longfellow came to the seen as unadventurous, timid poet; but such as assessment unfairly diminished the achievement of a writer who saw value in working with (rather than against) established forms and traditions. Viewed in relation to his own culture and his own poetic aspirations, Longfellow established a metrical complexity outlook that belied his persona as a soothing white-bearded fireside poet.” (Baym, p.643) Longfellow, unlike Emerson and Thoreau was not a trailblazer in the transcendental movement, but none the less his works reflected a respect and love for nature and the transcendental philosophy. Longfellow's work A Psalm of Life is a poem that encourages people to live life and not waste a moment.

Transcript

  • 1. Jade DavisEnglish 491May 6, 2013Prof. Julie Miller
  • 2. Merriam Webster’s dictionary defines transcendentalism as “aphilosophy that emphasizes the a priori conditions of knowledge andexperience or the unknowable character of ultimate reality or thatemphasizes the transcendent as the fundamental reality” but for theindividuals that were involved in the transcendental movement itmeant so much more, it was a way of life.“Although Transcendentalism as an historical movement was limitedin time from the mid 1830s to the late 1840s and in space to easternMassachusetts, its ripples continue to spreadthroughout American culture. Beginning as a quarrel within theUnitarian church, Transcendentalism developed a momentum of itsown as it questioned established cultural forms, tried to reintegratespirit and matter, and attempted to turn ideas into concrete action. Itspread from the spheres of religion and education toliterature, philosophy, and social reform. While theTranscendentalists ambivalence about any communal effort thatwould compromise individual integrity prevented them fromcreating lasting institutions, they helped to set the terms for being anintellectual in America.” (Bickman, 2000)
  • 3. Ralph Waldo EmersonHenry David ThoreauHenry Wadsworth Longfellow
  • 4.  Nature Self-reliance Dial
  • 5. “Ralph Waldo Emerson is arguably the most influential American writerof the nineteenth century-the writer with whom numerous othersignificant writers of the time sought to come to terms.” (Baym, p.488)Emerson was the trend setter of his time, his writing inspired an entiregeneration. His writing, Self-reliance, which teaches us to trustourselves, his other work Dial, which was a quarterly periodical that wasan outlet for new ideas in the transcendental movement, and mostimportantly Nature which influenced a number philosophers and writers.”Emerson’s immediate reward was having the book become the unofficialmanifesto for a number of his like-minded friends, who, over the nextfour years, would meet irregularly and informally in Emerson’s study.”(Baym, p.490) Emerson is also considered to be the “Father” of theTranscendental movement because, as a Boston minister in the Unitarianchurch he started to develop this new philosophy, one that encouragedthe wisdom of the human being over the church. Also Emerson was oneof the key figures in establishing the Transcendental club which was agroup of individual that meat to discuss the rethinking of spirituality.
  • 6.  Walden Civil Disobedience
  • 7. The Transcendental movement was a movement that mostly affected the liberalNew Englanders and Henry David Thoreau was one of the writers taken in by themovement and was most influenced by the Ralph Waldo Emerson, in fact in 1836Emerson became a friend and mentor to Thoreau. “Thoreau understood that theUnited States was breaking free of the intellectual chains of Europe. He took hismentor Ralph Waldo Emersons spirit of self-reliance and built on it. He also builton the philosophy of transcendentalism--the intellectual movement thatcelebrated heightened consciousness, the power of inspiration, and the divinity ofthe individual--and melded it with environmental concerns and abolitionism.Individualism, anti-materialism, environmentalism” (Bruno, 2005) Thoreau’s mostnotable work, Walden, was transcendentalism put into action. ““In the pantheon ofAmerican literary icons, Thoreau is our sternest disobedient. He stood alone onhis conscience against a nation of temporizers, coming out from a society thatcould kidnap escaped slaves and steal land from a fellow republic. More, he tooksuch commitment to its extreme, preferring the isolation of virtuous self-relianceto participation in a compromising social contract. Yet in Walden, his narrative ofwithdrawal, he insistently characterizes his time alone in the woods by means ofmetaphors of town life.” (Newman, 2009) Thoreau urges people to look inward tofind fulfillment which is one of the fundamental principles of the transcendentalmovement. Also Thoreau wrote Civil Disobedience in which he discusses socialcommentary.
  • 8.  A Psalm of Life
  • 9. “As literary modernism took hold in the twentieth century, Longfellow came to theseen as unadventurous, timid poet; but such as assessment unfairly diminished theachievement of a writer who saw value in working with (rather than against)established forms and traditions. Viewed in relation to his own culture and his ownpoetic aspirations, Longfellow established a metrical complexity outlook that beliedhis persona as a soothing white-bearded fireside poet.” (Baym, p.643)Longfellow, unlike Emerson and Thoreau was not a trailblazer in the transcendentalmovement, but none the less his works reflected a respect and love for nature andthe transcendental philosophy. Longfellows work A Psalm of Life is a poem thatencourages people to live life and not waste a moment.
  • 10. The transcendental movement which was a philosophy that dealt with spiritualityand religion was short lived and predominantly centralized in the Americanliterary community but it created a great impact on world literature as a whole.The transcendental movement opened the conversation in regards totruth, knowledge and the American experience.
  • 11. Baym, N. (Ed.). (2008). The Norton anthology of American literature (Shorter 7th ed., Vol.1). New York, NY: W. W. Norton.Bickman, M. (2000). Transcendentalism. In W. T. Mott (Ed.), Dictionary of LiteraryBiography: Vol. Vol. 223. The American Renaissance in New England. Detroit: GaleGroup. Retrieved fromhttp://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CH1220000827&v=2.1&u=uphoenix&it=r&p=LitRC&sw=wBruno, D. (2005). Natural Life: Thoreaus Worldly Transcendentalism. The WilsonQuarterly, 29(1), 125+. Retrieved fromhttp://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CA127714135&v=2.1&u=uphoenix&it=r&p=LitRC&sw=wHenry Wadsworth Longfellow: Americas Beloved Poet. (2013). Retrieved fromhttp://www.eparks.com/store/product/10736/Henry-Wadsworth-Longfellow%3A-Americas-Beloved-Poet/Henry Davis Thoreau Photos. (2012). Retrieved from http://kootation.com/henry-david-thoreau-photograph-detail.html
  • 12. Newman, L. (2009). Thoreaus Natural Community and Utopian Socialism. In K. D.Darrow (Ed.), Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism (Vol. 208). Detroit: Gale.(Reprinted from American Literature, 2003, September, 75[3], 515-544) Retrievedfromhttp://go.galegroup.com.ezproxy.apollolibrary.com/ps/i.do?id=GALE%7CH1420089801&v=2.1&u=uphoenix&it=r&p=LitRC&sw=wRalph Waldo Emerson Photo. Retrieved fromhttp://secretebooksource.com/images/Memberpage/emerson.jpgTranscendentalism. (2013). Retrieved from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/transcendentalismWeb of American Transcendentalism VCU Department of English. (2010). Retrievedfrom http://www.has.vcu.edu/eng/resources/transcendentalism.htmZachs Blog, . (2013). Nature and Self Reliance quiz. Retrieved fromhttp://zacharyb1112.edublogs.org/2012/01/08/nature-and-self-reliance-quiz/