Ralph Waldo Emerson

Start Free Trial

Referring to Emerson, discuss the basic principles of American Transcendentalism.

Expert Answers

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

Emerson's primary contribution to the Transcendental movement was the assertion of individual voice in all circumstances.  Emerson's belief in human "transcendence," the ability to perceive and experience reality that is beyond the contingent (and the basis of the movement's name) became his primary distinctive qualities and the principles of the movement.  When Emerson articulates early on in his thought that “the law of all nature, … the whole of Reason” resides in the self, it becomes the very essence of the movement.  Transcendentalism owes this notion of "know thyself" to Emerson, who was seeking to give the individual voice at a time when conformity and homogeneity in the form of expanded industrialization in America began to grip the nation.  It is in this very idea that Emerson argued that individuals should feel the need to transform, to change, their own identities and the identity of the social order, stressing that part of the Transcendental identity was to see what is and envision what can be.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team