Brief Overview

Transcendentalism is a philosophy that developed in the 1830s and was influenced by the development of romanticism. It emphasizes the importance of nature and the individual; they believe that "the human mind is so powerful it can unlock any mystery, from the intricacies of nature to the wonder of God" (Transcendentalism: the Seekers, 384). They believe in a universal over-soul that is encompassed in the mind of God, and that all things in nature are part of the soul and will return to it when it dies.

Image of Thoreau's Cabin

Major Authors

The Idea of God

God and the Universal Oversoul

Transcendentalists believe in God and a universal over-soul. They believe that when people die, they will be absorbed back into the over-soul which is the mind of God. God Himself is in all things in nature and can be found by deep introspection. Thoreau's reason for retreating to the woods was in the belief that society is what corrupts the goodness of man, and only by separating himself from everyone else could he truly experience God.

Important Historical Events & Impact

Transcendentalism began in the 1830 – the same time of the beginning of the industrial revolution. When Emerson felt the growing unimportance of the individual caused by the emphasis on machinery and dehumanizing assembly lines, he fought back and began feeding a philosophy that focused on the power of the individual. Emerson also spent a night in jail, and in that time developed many ideas about civil disobedience.

Stylistic Approach and Devices

Writers with transcendentalist influences tend to apply specific examples to larger truths. They also use very deep and well thought out metaphors of nature to describe problems in civilization and society. They primarily write in essays and poems with heavy variance of sentence lengths to draw emphasis on certain words and topics.

Predomimant Genres and Themes

  • Nature
  • Importance of Individual
  • Wrote Analytically
  • Past Experiences
  • Civil Disobedience
  • Corruption of Government

Lasting Effects on American Thinking

"The influence of the Transcendentalists is so woven into the fabric of American culture that it is almost invisible, like the air—so bountiful we take it for granted. Yet, whenever writers celebrate the individual, whenever they look to the natural world as a mirror of human lives, whenever they state a belief in the power of intuition to grasp fundamental truths, they owe a debt to the great, brief meeting of minds in Concord" (Transcendentalism: the Seekers, 385). This statement essentially explains it all. So much of what we now see as American literature was truly the influence of the Transcendentalists that we cannot mentally separate its influence from American literature itself.