Compare Emerson's and Thoreau's attitudes toward society as expressed in their lives and writings

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Both Emerson and Thoreau felt that spending time in nature would be morally improving and inspirational to all people. Emerson wrote, "In the woods, we return to reason and faith." He believed that nature could repair any part of his person that had been ravaged by the cares and concerns...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Both Emerson and Thoreau felt that spending time in nature would be morally improving and inspirational to all people. Emerson wrote, "In the woods, we return to reason and faith." He believed that nature could repair any part of his person that had been ravaged by the cares and concerns of daily life, society's standards, or his own ego. Nature could restore him to his best self. Thoreau likewise felt that nature could be restorative and provide an excellent example of how we ourselves ought to live. He wrote,

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks. I got up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did.

Nature uses what it needs and not more; it is simple, and we should also embrace simplicity in our lives. Nature can also provide scenes of beauty and serenity that can wake us up and snap us out of the routines that we too often adopt, forgetting to truly live.

Both Emerson and Thoreau also championed self-reliance and intellectual independence. If you are not inspired by sitting in a church and listening to a preacher, then get up and leave and go find what does inspire you. We must not follow the lead of society, because it may take us somewhere we do not want to go, or worse, lead us to do things that go against our consciences. Emerson wrote, "Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that." Likewise, Thoreau argued that each person must follow their own conscience, rather than the law. Simply because something is legal does not mean that it is moral or just; slavery, for example, was legal during Thoreau's lifetime, but he refused to participate in any endeavor that even indirectly supported the institution of slavery. He did not pay his taxes at one point and was promptly placed in jail, but he had to follow his conscience, and his conscience would not allow him to contribute money for the support of a government that supported slavery. He believed in a "majority of one"—societies ought not to be ruled by majorities, because majorities are not always, or even often, right; instead, each person must follow their conscience, and this will result in a more just world.

Both men, therefore, placed a great importance on the individual and advocated for society's taking a back seat to the individual. When individuals rely on themselves and their own bodies and souls and consciences, society will become more just and good.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team