By wanting to be as much like Emerson as possible is Thoreau being insincere in terms of his beliefs?

Asked on by magnotta

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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In theory, one could argue that Thoreau perhaps "thought" to the beat of Emerson's drum. However, Thoreau had the courage to live out the tenets of Transcendentalism. Admittedly, Emerson most publicly promoted the idea first of living a life of non-conformity, avoiding "imitation suicide," and being in tune with what one learns from himself in solitude; so some claim that Thoreau was simply a follower and thus a conformist to Emersonian ideals.

However, Thoreau's willingness to live in solitude, practice civil disobedience, and be ostracized at times for his actions and speech demonstrates that he truly believed in Idealism and Transcendentalism. The question, then, of his sincerity represents the age-old conflict between Idealists and Realists. Idealists such as Emerson and Thoreau gloss over the practicality of their teachings and focus on human feelings; thus, if Thoreau truly felt that he should live alone and protest taxes, he is a non-conformist, regardless of whether Emerson promoted the idea first. Realists--on the other hand--focus on the flaws in logic associated with Idealistic teachings and argue that if one is his own person, then his life should be so similar to someone else's theories.


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