How can I identify the elements of transcendentalism in Emerson's "Nature"?

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rmhope's profile pic

rmhope | College Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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Five predominant elements of Transcendentalism are nonconformity, self-reliance, free thought, confidence, and the importance of nature. These concepts are liberally sprinkled throughout Emerson's essay "Nature." 

When Emerson says that we should "demand our own works and laws and worship," he espouses nonconformity. 

Free thought is similar to nonconformity. Emerson encourages readers to avoid doing what their peers or predecessors do; rather, they should think for themselves. In the introduction, he bemoans the fact that "speculative men are esteemed unsound and frivolous." This suggests he values speculation, or free thought.

In Chapter 1, Emerson asserts that, as long as he has nature, he can be complete. His belief that "in the woods ... nothing can befall me in life" shows self-reliance and confidence. 

The key tenet of Transcendentalism displayed in "Nature" is the importance of nature. That is what Emerson is writing about, after all. He begins by stating in the introduction that "all science has one aim, namely, to find a theory of nature." In Chapter 1, he discusses the stars and how we take them for granted, but that they nevertheless "awaken a certain reverence." He suggests that, although no one "owns the landscape," the poet who appreciates it possesses it in a sense. He says that nature can produce "a wild delight" in a man even amid sorrows. He becomes eloquent when describing the effect of the woods on him. It makes one feel perpetually young, and "all mean egotism vanishes." He feels as if he is "part or particle of God" when he is out in nature. 

To identify elements of Transcendentalism in "Nature," keep looking for expressions of nonconformity, free thought, self-reliance, confidence, and the supremacy of nature.

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pohnpei397's profile pic

pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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One of the major elements of Transcendentalism is the idea that nature and the person (each person) are really part of each other.  Transcendentalism says that you cannot separate the two from each other.  If you are talking solely about the chapter entitled "Nature" from Emerson's larger book (also entitled "Nature") this is the only aspect of Transcendentalism that is discussed.

You can see this very clearly in Emerson's essay.  He argues that there are two parts of the universe.  There is the self (each person's self) and there is nature (everything else).  He argues that the two of them are linked together inextricably.  As Emerson says in the essay:

Standing on the bare ground, -- my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, -- all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God.

This shows that he sees himself as part of nature and that nature is part of him.