Transcendentalism in American Literature
In the early 1800s, a group of writers and thinkers congregated in New England with revolutionary ideas about the role of the individual in the world as a whole. Society at this time was largely Puritan, with religion maintaining a strong grip over the choices a person makes. Transcendentalists, however, rejected this in favor of self-reliance and intuition, believing that each person, male or female, was capable of spiritual development. While many transcendentalists are known for their written contributions, a great many of them spread their ideals through speeches and sermons.
In American literary history, the writings of transcendentalists flourished. Authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, and Henry David Thoreau were responsible for perpetuating the ideas of the transcendentalists, and their contributions have left an indelible mark on the American literary tradition. Many of the most famous writings of transcendentalists were rooted in their own personal experiences. Thoreau’s Walden, for example, was his autobiography, focused on his simple life in the natural world. Later, his essay entitled “Civil Disobedience” found origins in Thoreau’s desire to protest taxation in Concord, Massachusetts. Other issues of the time that influenced Transcendentalist writings included the abolition of slavery, seen in Emerson’s “Lecture on Slavery” and the burgeoning women’s rights movement, seen in Woman in the Nineteenth Century, by Margaret Fuller.