American Transcendentalism

and Romanticism

Henry David Thoreau's "Civil Disobedience"

In the work by Thoreau entitled "Civil Disobedience" Thoreau made his place clear upon individuality and the corruption that large organizations had upon that. He spoke of how the American government was once a pure idea, but had been corrupted and no longer achieved its goal. "The government itself, which is only the mode which the people have chosen to execute their will, is equally liable to be abused and perverted before the people can act through it." The American government was the way in which people chose to enact their ideas and wishes. It was just the tool to be used, but inevitably, in the eyes of Thoreau, this large organization of people became corrupted and reached out, corrupting others. It took away their individuality and tied them together. Most abandoned their self dependence, paying taxes and bowing to the whims of the government in fear of getting their property taken from them or thrown into jail. The tool was no longer working for the person, couldn't recognize that the one individual's power was more than its own. He also supplied that as it went, this government wasn't horrible. It was one of the better, but he wished for the day when a government, a tool, could be created where it saw where its power came from and recognized that the individual was more powerful than it in its whole.


Within that same train of thought, the government is the face of the people. "It does not keep the country free. It does not settle the West. It does not educate. The character inherent in the American people has done all that has been accomplished..." People are the ones who power the government. Each individual is the one who is making discoveries, advancing, protecting, and caring for society. The government detracts from that individual, making it so that they don't appear to be the ones making such advances. It was not the one making the discoveries or educating people. It is those within the government, those special people, who are the ones running things. The government detracts from them each, disrupting their image of being a soul individual, instead combining and corrupting them, twisting them into conformity, no longer lingering upon their own special attributes.


These people, combined together can't achieve that individuality that is one of the basic themes of Transcendentalism if they keep depending upon others. If they keep using others and not being the independent soul that is so highly valued within both Transcendentalism and Romanticism. "If I devote myself to other pursuits and contemplations, I must first see, at least, that I do not pursue them sitting upon another man's shoulders. I must get off him first, that he may pursue his contemplations too." Each person must lead their own way, must work within themselves. They must split from the conformity of society to tread their own paths, pursue their own ideas, their own happiness. They can't become their own person while still clinging to someone else, or "sitting upon another man's shoulders". They must step away from that single mind, become their own thinking entity and reach out to the future that they want with the creativity and the independence that isn't found within a group. No one can be the individual that is so highly treasured in the writings of Transcendentalism and Romanticism while riding upon another man. They both must go separate ways and pursue their own lives, to claim their own individuality.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Nature"

Emerson's "Nature" dealt with none other than the concept of Nature and its impact upon people. It is everywhere, touching everything, even if people choose to ignore it. "It has been poured into us as blood; it convulsed us as pain; it slid into us as pleasure; it enveloped us in dull, melancholy days, or in days of cheerful labor; we did not guess its essence, until after a long time." Nature is everywhere, in everything. People originate from it and are always bathed it in. It is within them, whether or not they accept it. Emerson comments that it is within Nature that people will accomplish finding themselves. It will bring into perspective the rest of the world, so how minuscule and trivial people are in comparison to the vast mass that is Nature. It also shows how each thing is different, each settled within itself, none exactly the same as the last. It is this collective soul that each diverges from. He claimed that once everyone accepted that they came from this and realized themselves, they would all be inspired, able to see what really is and isn't.


People at the time were moving away from such things and towards newer ideas, as is always the case. It was Emerson's belief that no matter what was done, how things are forced forward or caused to stop, they still wouldn't be changed. "They say that by electro-magnetism, your sallad shall be grown from the seed, whilst your fowl is roasting for dinner: it is a symbol of our modern aims and endeavors,—-of our condensation and acceleration of objects: but nothing is gained: nature cannot be cheated: man's life is but seventy sallads long, grow they swift or grow they slow." Time can't be compressed, Nature changed. As is quoted here, a person lives for a certain amount of time, no matter if it is rushed or slowed down. They still live for that time, which can never be changed. Each thing has its assigned time, its assigned place. Each person is their own, never able to shift that idea.


"Is it, that beauty can never be grasped?" Emerson commented upon how when that beauty is achieved, it is no longer beautiful. He used the comparison of a man chasing after a woman. During the chase she is a wonderful mysterious thing, but once she turns her attention to him, it is no longer so. If one sees a beautiful vista, for the first time, it is breath taking. Although once they live there, look about it every day, it no longer is beautiful. It can no longer be amazing as it once was. It was grasped and no longer contains the luster that it once had. The need comes once more to step back, to step away from that, retreat to another place and regain a concept of the world, of reality and how it stands. Find that Nature, that grand open conscience that had been lost and feel it once more.

Enya - Sail Away(Orinoco Flow)

My Life

These different themes and ideas play a larger role in my life than I would have originally expected. Individuality is one of the things that I really live by. People always say that you can be two things: a leader or a follower. Truthfully, I have found this to be inaccurate. The leaders and the followers are just those two stereotypical things that most people would rather classify themselves as. There are other types of people out there. Each is an individual, each traveling along their own route.


I see myself as rather one of those individuals. I neither lead nor follow. Rather, I go my own way, trying to be as self reliant as possible, not a sheep following the herd. I closely relate to their ideas of each person being very different and specific to themselves. I also agree with their ideas regarding Nature. Nature itself plays a very large and vital role within my life. I would much rather be outside within a forest hiking than in a city shopping. It always makes me feel much more alive and does help to bring about a better vision for the world.


Another thing that is prevalent within Transcendentalism and Romanticism is creativity based upon that individualism. To leave the cut trail and do something new and different is terrifying, but it is wonderful. To create something new, be it a drawing, painting, poem, or book, is a feeling like no other. If everyone sentenced themselves to conform as such, no advances would be made and we would all be stuck, never growing or moving an any such way. It would be much like The Giver or Uglies. Many stories and different works of art relate to such fears of that conformity, taking away all which makes us special, different.


Transcendentalism and Romanticism play large roles in everything we do, although most people wouldn't recognize that. Each time someone speaks out against the stereotypical idea, they are using those themes within Transcendentalism. Each time someone paints, draws, or writes, they are experiencing that. Each time they refuse to conform within a group, they are taking part in that movement.