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

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Emerson, known as the father of transcendentalism, took more of a preacher role towards the philosophy. He tried to spread it among other people with words and sermons. On the other hand, Thoreau lived out the values of transcendentalism. He lived at Walden pond for a time, and refused to pay taxes which he viewed as unjust.

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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.

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

Emerson is often cited as the father of transcendentalism. His role can be compared to that of a preacher, often giving lectures from a philosophical standpoint. He encouraged others to change their life based on these principles.

Thoreau, on the other hand, both preached and practiced the spiritual movement, and he chose to change his own life to reflect the principles of transcendentalism. The most obvious example of this is his time living in a cabin at Walden Pond. However, the best example is when he refused to pay his taxes to the government as a form of protest. He believed the Mexican War was a way for the United States to extend their agenda of slavery through conquest of the southwest. When he vocalized his opinion, he was jailed for tax evasion. While in jail, he continued to refuse to pay his back taxes. He was only released when one of his female connections, possibly his aunt, anonymously paid in his stead, which he was not happy about. In fact, Thoreau did not want to leave his jail cell when he was informed that he was free to go. He was hoping that his act of defiance would spread awareness about the war agenda.

Thoreau wrote about his brief time in jail in his activist manifesto “On the Duty of Civil Disobedience,” which has inspired such people as Martin Luther King Jr. and Mahatma Gandhi.

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

Though Emerson and Thoreau say incredibly similar things about society in their writings, their lives looked somewhat different in terms of how they appeared to embrace or reject society at large. Emerson wrote, in his essay called Self Reliance, "Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members . . . Self-reliance is its aversion . . . Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist." He believed in society’s corrupting influence on the individual, so much so that he advocated for self-reliance as the most important quality an individual could possess. He championed nonconformity and urged people, in the dozens of lectures he would give each year, to think and act for themselves, with little regard for how they might be perceived by others. However, Emerson did not withdraw from society or even keep a distance; in fact, when his house caught fire, Emerson first ran to his neighbors for help. After the damage was done, society actually collected some $12,000 to send him and his wife and family on a long international trip so that their house could be repaired and set back to rights in their absence. Emerson maintained a high social standing despite his somewhat unorthodox beliefs, and he entertained people quite often in his home, playing host to all kinds of important personages of the day.

Thoreau, as I mentioned, made similar statements about society in his writings. In his essay called Resistance to Civil Government (often referred to simply as Civil Disobedience), he wrote, "There is but little virtue in the action of masses of men." In his view, the individual is too easily influenced by society, and for the worse. People find themselves wanting to keep up with their friends and neighbors, acquiring bigger and bigger houses, more land, and more possessions, which tie them down and make them captive to their work. His beliefs are not so different from Emerson’s, right? However, Thoreau seemed to walk the walk, so to speak, more than his friend did. He moved to Emerson’s property at Walden Pond, to live alone and in nature—away from society—for two years, two months, and two days. He was not a hermit, as he frequently interacted with local children and even went to friends’ and family’s houses for dinner. But he did spend the bulk of his time in solitude; while Emerson had a wife (two, actually, though not at the same time) and family, Thoreau remained a bachelor. Thoreau seems to have lived a somewhat more set-apart existence than Emerson did, interacting less with society than Emerson.

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