Discuss the tensions and the contradictions between the country and a pastoral vision of the early American republic and a more urban, industrial, and technological version of it in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Nature,” “Self-Reliance,” and “Experience.” Please support your answer by quoting from the texts.

For Ralph Waldo Emerson in “Nature,” “Self-Reliance,” and “Experience,” pastoral America is privileged over industrial America. Nature signifies mystery and enchantment, while technological society portends conformity and a corruption of the natural wonders of the world.

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In the three works listed in the question, Ralph Waldo Emerson presents a contentious, contradictory relationship between pastoral America and an urban America in the throes of industry and technology.

For Emerson, pastoral America is best. In Emerson’s work, the natural world functions as a kind of safe space or shelter from society and its concomitant connection to industry and technology. One can find many quotes in “Nature” that speak to Emerson’s allegiance with nature. According to Emerson, the “stars awaken reverence.” As for animals, mountains, flowers, and other entities commonly associated with pastoral life, they showcase the “wisdom” of nature’s “best hour."

Meanwhile, society, with its reliance on industry and technology, does not come across as so wise or worthy of reverence. Emerson tends to treat professions connected to advancements in society with disdain. In “Experience,” Emerson and a doctor quarrel over facts. Emerson doesn’t want to hear about facts. “I distrust the facts and the inference,” declares Emerson.

It’s possible to argue that Emerson's disdain for America’s technological advances relate to his suspicion of adulthood. In “Nature,” Emerson praises the “spirit of infancy.” In order to properly see nature, Emerson argues that a person has to have “the eye and the heart of the child.” Here, nature is tied to childhood, while industry and technology are linked to what Emerson calls “the era of manhood.” In Emerson’s perspective, it's best to stick to the wonder and mystery of childhood and pastoral life.

Last Updated by eNotes Editorial on January 13, 2021
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