|Transcendentalism: Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Author: Katharyn R. King PM
An essay on, you guessed it, Transcendentalism.Rated: Fiction M - English - Words: 1,431 - Published: 01-19-07 - Status: Complete - id: 2306972
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Transcendentalism:Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow
Over the past two centuries, from the Revolutionary War to the Industrial Revolution, the American mind has struggled to wean itself away from the identity of its parent continent, Europe, and sculpt the ultimate ideal of an American "self-made man." What does it mean to be a "self-made man" and how does one achieve such a feat? The Transcendentalist Movement, which blossomed from the ravaging effects of the Industrial Revolution during the early to mid nineteenth century, may be the most efficient answer for it has provided the foundation for many of the principles in which we believe. Without the ideologies with which great thinkers such as Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau captured the very essence of what it means not only to be human in this vast and seemingly lonely universe, but also to be American; such ideals as those of "self-reliance," "be true to yourself," and "dreams can come true" may never have been instilled into out hearts as children and subsequently may never have influenced any of the brilliant minds who followed after them.
So, what does the word Transcendentalism mean? Its principle, ideological definition is not as clear-cut and simple; Transcendentalism refers to a group of new ideas in literature, religion, culture, and philosophy that emerged in the New England region of the United States of America in the early-to mid-19th century. It is sometimes called American Transcendentalism to distinguish it from other uses of the word transcendental (Wikipedia). The root, transcend, literally means to move above and beyond; therefore, in connection to the time this movement came into being, Transcendentalism is a form of ideology that was formed out of opposition against the general state and culture of the society in which its founders lived. Among their beliefs in a Unitarian faith, the men and women who began the Transcendentalist Movement (Emerson, Thoreau, Fuller, Alcott, and others) spoke and wrote of an ideal spiritual state that 'transcends' the physical and empirical and is only realized through the individual's intuition, rather than through the doctrines of established religions (Wikipedia). One could say that Emerson's essay "Nature" was a watershed for the ideas of Transcendentalism to become a major social, cultural movement in American society that has survived to the present century. The overall ideology and theology of American Transcendentalism and Renaissance is comprised of three key, cornerstone points.
The first of these is the theological concept of the "Over-Soul" and the human role in Nature. Emerson's main philosophy is founded on the idea that humans are intermittently part of Nature and, individually, contribute to the Over-Soul, which is God (Emerson). Each human spirit, by virtue of his or her individual soul, is a "particle of God" (Emerson), and because of this connection to the Over-Soul of God, each human spirit is connected to every other human spirit. I could not agree more; it is clear in our everyday lives that there is a hidden truth in every corner of Nature and that, by discovery of new concepts of Nature, we can better understand truths about ourselves. Emerson brings out the beliefs that we "live in succession, in division, in parts, in particles. Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal ONE." Nature is the ultimate gateway to unlocking the mysteries of God and by unlocking the mysteries of God; we may also unlock the mysteries of the Human Mind.
Thoreau agreed with Emerson and extended his philosopy even further later on by living on Emerson's property as a trial of sorts, or experiment, in which he endeavored to find the "gateway into the human soul through Nature" (Thoreau). From a theological perspective, Thoreau's goal was to seek God in this way as well. The pathway to God is to uncover truths about the Human Soul, which exists as, again, a "particle of God" (Emerson) and can only be sought through Nature. In turn, Nature can only be sought through Science ("Walden"). So how does this relate to us today? At some point during our youth, we have probably been encouraged to "think for ourselves" and to stay "true to our hearts", or even "listen to our heart's desire." Who can argue with that? This principle has been programmed into us and, as frightening as that may seem at first, it is important to realize that without such an ideal, there may never have been a Civil Rights Movement (Martin Luther King, Jr.) or a Gay Rights Movement (Ellen DeGeneres). Movements like these were all "simmering," as Whitman stated once, and the concepts of Transcendentalism "brought them to boil."
The last cornerstone of Transcendentalist thought addresses the belief that "human beings have self-wisdom and may gain this knowledge or wisdom by tuning in to the ebb and flow of nature" (Literary Movements For Students). The discovery of the self is important to the construction of a unique American identity, which is better understood as American individualism. Subsequently, the notion of individualism is one of the major cornerstone themes of American democracy, the system upon which our nation was founded. One need only to open the eyes and gaze into the skies, or into a stream, or beyond the horizon, and search for the answers to his innermost questions in Nature. Nature is man's "broadband connection" to God and therefore, he does not require the guidance or permission of an organized religious institution for the User ID and Password; these are merely truths he has sought for himself (Original).
The power and significance of the existence of man is astounding and profound. If there is no purpose, why are we here? What is our identity? How do we unlock the answers to the enigma of the "human question" as I call it? So much of American society, most of it completely ignorant of this fact, has been greatly impacted by the Transcendentalist Movement, that it Transcendentalism has been engrained into our daily lives. All that is beautiful in this world lies in the Nature of the planet in which we live. We must remember that, for those of us who believe in a "Higher Power," we have been blessed with the largest of all hints regarding the answers we all seek day in and day out. Our minds are powerful as long as we listen to them; "Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string (Emerson)."
Individuality and nonconformity are what have helped to shape the American culture, for we have long heard the echoes of Emerson's cry that "Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist." Emerson paved the way for Margaret Fuller, who grasped these ideas of individualism and self-reliance, nonconformity and the power of the self, and used them to fight for women's rights. She was "America's first true feminist" (Thomas Hampson, "I Hear America Singing") and embodied all of Emerson and Thoreau's urges for an American Voice, or Identity. Beauty, indeed, surrounds us in our daily lives—the answers are there before our very eyes, and still we are blindly ignorant of them. Fuller, whose words were strongly heartfelt and flooded with conviction when she wrote, "The beauty grows around us daily, the trees are now all in blossom and some of the vines", supports this opinion.
To that last, Transcendentalism was a watershed for most or all of the principles upon which America was shaped in the early nineteenth century. Even the ideology of Democracy was overshadowed by the events of the era, namely the Industrial Revolution and its steadily increasing influence over society—influence that encouraged mechanical progress over individual enlightenment and connection with Nature. Without the ideas and philosophies of men and women such as Emerson, Thoreau, and Fuller, America would still be struggling to ascertain an identity. We would be lost—I would be lost. Everything I was taught as a child, and still believe, is founded on transcendental principles. They must be working, otherwise I would not have succeeded so magnificently in my endeavors thus far!Works Cited
Galens, David, ed. "Transcendentalism Study Guide Themes." BookRags. 20 Nov. 2006 Thomas. "IHAS: Poet." IHAS. 20 Nov. 2006 Civil Rights Movement: the Role of Youth. Dir. Unspecified. 20 Nov. 2006 http://www.tiger. of the Gay Rights Movement. Dir. Unspecified. 2o Nov. 2006 http://www.video.