Transcendentalism and Romantic Era Essay

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The Influences of Romanticism

The Romantic Era was a discontinuity from the ideas that fueled the Enlightenment Era. The alliance with reason and empiricism is questioned and replaced with natural and emotional ideals. Romanticism demanded that nature be respected and ruled that the relationship between oneself and nature was essential for a beneficial existence. The goal of the Era was to discover the individual and revolt against authority. Transcendentalism is compatible with Romanticism in that nature is the answer to any human quest. Henry Thoreau the Transcendentalist author wrote the literature of Walden. Romanticism influenced the literature of Henry Thoreau specifically in his writing of Walden. Henry Thoreau lived in the woods for 2 years on Walden Pond in order to escape the society he had been a part of. He went to the woods to “live deliberately” (Thoreau) and escape the distractions of the town he had lived in prior. Thoreau is constantly warning of what the quality of life is leading to in his writings. He claims that the obsession with material goods and technological advances stifle the life of a person. There is a belief that people need to go out into nature and back to their roots in order to gain satisfaction from life. Thoreau lived off of only the “essential facts of life”(Thoreau) which were food and shelter. The meticulous planning he did of the use of his money for shelter, food, and oil solidify that he was not merely a madman fleeing to the woods, he was a businessman in this sense and was using reasoning. This is interesting because the characteristics of the Romantic Era would suggest that he would have been over come with emotion and have a natural inclination to find peace in nature and planning would not occur. However the excerpt explaining his plans in the chapter Economy suggest that he either still hung on to the Enlightenment beliefs or he attempted to write this part in order to relate to the readers still living in an Enlightenment mindset. This demonstrates the kind of transition that had to be made when Romanticism became popular. He went out to nature to discover himself better and in doing so and writing about the experience he had not only been influenced by the Romantic Era but he had influenced the Era himself. Nature is personified in Walden granted the ability to teach. Thoreau sought out to find guidance from the environment, he wanted to “see if [he] could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when [he] came to die, discover that [he] had not lived”(Thoreau). He unwillingly gives the power to the nature to have control over his life. Romanticism preaches that the power is always in the hands of nature and that a human is expected to oblige to its command. Nature will always outlive the workings of the humans and the wisdom that comes with this age cannot be matched by the 100 years a human lives. This is the idea that Thoreau has accepted when he refers to nature as a teacher. The interpretation can be made that what is learned in schools and in work will never match the wisdom to be found outside. He had set aside the miniscule in proportion to problems of the town he lived in and put the fate of his life in the hands of nature. He writes in order to save others. When he refers to not wanting to die and never have lived, the quote gives the impression that he is reflecting back on his life and having regrets for getting caught up in a self absorbed servile life. Being a slave to a mundane task in order to gain money or status for an entire lifetime; to never have stopped and taken a step out into nature to see what really matters is the greatest sin in Romanticism. Thoreau realizes this at some point in his life and this give him the push to leave the routine and create Walden. The fact that Thoreau chose to document his journey into the woods instead of venture out and tell no one and only have personal satisfaction is another result from Romanticism.