Society’s Impact on the Individual Writer
Changes in America
Conflicts in Emotion
Patriotism vs. individualism
Should we support our nation no matter what?
Urban vs. untamed
Contrast between settled cities and new wilderness
Wealthy vs. enslaved
Expansion and industrialization led to financial gains,
but slavery for African Americans
Writers reacted by turning to
nature and to the self for
simplicity, truth, and beauty
William Cullen Bryant, Washington Irving
Reacted to Puritanism
Aimed to capture the energy and character of their
Saw limits to reason and celebrated human nature
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes
Uplifting and romantically engaging
Family custom: reading poetry around a fire
Celebrated individualism, nature, social reform
There is an ideal spiritual state which “transcends” the physical
It is a loose collection of eclectic ideas about literature, philosophy,
religion, social reform, and the general state of American culture.
Had different meanings for each person involved in the
What did transcendentalists
There is an ideal spiritual state, which “transcends” the physical and
empirical (gained by experience).
Basic Premise #1
An individual is the spiritual center of the universe, and in
an individual can be found the clue to nature, history and,
ultimately, the world itself. It is not a rejection of the
existence of God, but a preference to explain an individual
and the world in terms of an individual.
Basic Premise #2
The structure of the universe literally duplicates the
structure of the individual self—all knowledge, therefore,
begins with self-knowledge. This is similar to Aristotle's
dictum "know thyself."
Basic Premise #3
Transcendentalists accepted the concept of nature as a
living mystery, full of signs; nature is symbolic.
Basic Premise #4
The belief that individual virtue and happiness depend upon self-
realization—this depends upon the reconciliation of two universal
The desire to embrace the whole world—to know and become one
with the world.
The desire to withdraw, remain unique and separate—an egotistical
Who were the
Ralph Waldo Emerson
Henry David Thoreau
The Dark Romantics
Does every individual have a dark side?
The Dark Romantics
Inspired by nature
Fascinated with the supernatural
Didn’t have the same faith in the goodness of
Aware of human capacity for evil
Freedom of imagination led them to:
Explore inner life and motivation of characters
Include fantastic or supernatural elements in their
You may recognize them as…
Edgar Allan Poe