Henry David Thoreau American Literature Analysis
Thoreau is a major figure in the American Transcendental movement and in what F. O. Matthiessen calls the American Renaissance of the 1840’s and 1850’s, when American literature came of age. Undogmatic and unsystematic, Transcendentalism was in part a heritage from Puritanism but in larger part a rebellion against it. Its American leader was Emerson, who resigned from his Unitarian ministry because even it was too dogmatic for him.
Transcendentalism rejected organized religion, biblical authority, and the concept of Original Sin in favor of pantheism and a belief in the daily rebirth of God in the individual soul. An eclectic faith rather than a systematic philosophy, it derived in part from platonic idealism, German mysticism, French utopianism, and the Hindu scriptures. Part of the Romantic movement’s reaction against the Age of Reason, it stressed the instinct rather than the intellect. As Thoreau wrote, “We do not learn by inference and deduction and the application of mathematics to philosophy, but by direct intercourse and sympathy.”
At first Emerson’s disciple, Thoreau soon he became his own man. Emerson complained that Thoreau had no new ideas: “I am very familiar with all his thoughts,” Emerson wrote, “they are my own quite originally drest.” Formulating new ideas did not interest Thoreau. Emerson wrote largely in abstractions, but Thoreau did not care for abstract ideas and theorizing, stating, “Let us not...
(The entire section is 3638 words.)
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