What does Transcendentalism mean in literature?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Transcendentalism is a movement that is located in American thought in the 19th Century.  It was one of the first literary and intellectual movements in America.  Of the many things that Transcendentalism means, the fundamental idea sought to inject emotions into daily life and paradigms of thought.  Essentially, the Transcendentalists saw life and consciousness as an exercise for emotions and emotional thought.  They wanted to bring more emotions into how human beings acted and thought.  In doing so, the movement asserted a couple of truths that ended up defining it.  The first was the call to individuality.  Transcendentalists were strong advocates of being an individual and breaking away from conformist society.  It is fromt the Transcendentalist thinkers that we get the idea of "walking to a different drummer" and "Know thyself."  These notions develop the idea that doing what society says might not be the best course of action.  Transcendentalism ended up becoming strongly associated and almost defined by this call to individuality and the zealous defense of it.