Essay, Research Paper: Transcendentalism In Literature

Literature: Nathaniel Hawthorne

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Transcendentalism is the belief that matters of ultimate reality transcend, or
go beyond, human experience. Transcendentalist thinking began during the
American Renaissance with writers like Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David
Thoreau. However transcendental thinking did not begin with Thoreau and Emerson,
but as Emerson called it, “it is the very oldest of thoughts cast into the
mold of these new times.” Transcendentalism is based on the ancient philosophy
of Idealism, which originates with Plato, a well-known philosopher from ancient
Greece. Transcendentalism is an appropriate way of thinking for the period known
as the American Renaissance because it puts one into a state of mind that is
more conducive to creative writing and thought. Transcendentalism is a lot to
swallow, especially for many people of that time. Herman Melville totally
captured the common man’s reaction to the whole concept when he said, “what
stuff all this is.” It really takes a trained mind to grasp the concept of
this spiritual world that Emerson describes. Many people do not believe in
things that they cannot see, hear, touch, taste, or smell, so the extremely
abstract concept of transcendentalism is totally out of their reach. However,
for the people that can grasp this idea, it is very fulfilling.
Transcendentalism makes people feel closer to God, in tune with nature, and
gives a person a sense of self-worth. A major aspect of transcendental thinking
is the individual defiance against the established orders of society. Henry
David Thoreau conveys his feeling about this when he says; “That government is
best which governs not at all.” He believes that the ineptitude of the
political leaders far out-weighs the amount of good that they could do. He also
states that “They who have been bred in the school of politics fail now and
always to face the facts.” In this, he means that politicians ignore reality
when it does not serve their purpose. This is true for modern times as all can
see in the present political situation of the United States. Politicians are
ignoring reality to serve their own personal and partisan agendas. The
transcendentalists even went as far as to set up their own communities, the most
famous of which, Brook Farm. Brook Farm, a self-governing, experimental
community, lasted only six years, (the longest of all the transcendental
communities), is where many famous authors of the American Renaissance call home
for a part of their lives, and is even the setting for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s
Blithedale Romance. Hawthorne lived at the Farm for a little while, but left
because he could not stand the highly intellectual and spiritual conversation.
Brook Farm was a great outlet for these people to express their ideas and
communicate with people who share those same beliefs without the fear of
persecution by people that did not understand. The transcendentalist movement
can and often is compared to another famous movement in American history, the
“hippie” movement of the sixties. In many ways the “hippies’” movement
paralleled the transcendentalists’, and the “hippies” even form their own
little communities, like Brook Farm, called communes. Both of these movements
were important to help shape thinking, writing, and social ideals. The
transcendentalist movement brings to the table an increased awareness of the
world around oneself, with and a commitment to the spiritual aspects therein,
and the “hippie” movement in the sixties gives Americans an increased
awareness of their fellow man, with and emphasis on freedom and love. The
transcendentalist movement has many good aspects to it that if applied today,
could still teach everyone a few things about themselves and their lives. Plato,
Emerson, Thoreau, and many others really did have a level of intelligence that
transcended their contemporaries and the generations and generations after them.
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