Nature Characters

The main characters in Nature are nature and humankind.

  • Nature is presented as a source of purity and goodness, and Emerson encourages all humans to engage with and study it.
  • Humankind often neglects to appreciate the restorative aspects of nature. Sustained contact between humans and nature allows humans to reach higher levels of spiritual and emotional enlightenment.

Characters

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

Nature

Since it is a work of nonfiction, the characters of Nature are unlike those found in literary fiction. Rather, the closest that the essay comes to having “characters” are representations or figures whose presence advances the overarching narrative or argument. In other words, these characters are not persons or individuals but concepts and abstract representations identified by Emerson as demonstrating the validity of his ideas. The most important of these concepts is Nature itself. According to Emerson, Nature is an ever-present force that is largely ignored. Nature refers to all things that are not the Soul; essentially, the proper noun refers to everything else. It can be further broken down into categories of nature (lowercase, meaning the natural world), other people, art, and our own bodies. These are the subcategories of life that Emerson has established. Emerson notes that "few adults can see nature," let alone understand their relationship to it and its transformative power. He attempts to persuade readers of the benefits they can reap from exploring, studying, and enjoying the natural world. When people leave the confines of society and go out into Nature, they can be truly alone—which is of the utmost importance to their health and growth. Nature will have restorative effects upon us, returning us to "reason and faith." Emerson believes that Nature serves a higher purpose for humankind because God created Nature to liberate humanity from its corrupted state. Nature’s ultimate function is to lead people back to their divine source, from which both Nature and humankind arise. With this line of reasoning, Emerson also argues that there is an "occult," or hidden, relationship between elements of Nature and humankind. When humans encounter objects within Nature, they enter into a truer relationship with both the natural world and the divine.

Humankind

Nature is primarily about humankind's relationship to, and interaction with, the natural world. Man, or humankind, is the second major character. In Emerson’s view, humans often take Nature for granted because they do not fully understand its restorative qualities. Humankind's interaction with Nature comes in one of several varieties, according to Emerson: Commodity, Beauty, Language, or Discipline. As Commodity, Nature provides for the health and well-being of all people. In the context of Beauty, Emerson believes that Nature contains sights and sensations that are pleasing to both the senses and the human spirit. Considering Language, he claims that “Nature is the symbol of spirit,” meaning that physical objects in Nature signify spiritual realities that can only be fully comprehended in their presence. Finally, Emerson states that people can acquire discipline and personal fulfillment by interacting with Nature. Each of these dimensions represents one of humankind’s uses of Nature. But taken all together, they enhance individuals’ awareness of the world around them and help them progress in their spiritual growth. Through considered and continual contact with Nature, an individual can attain their full, even divine, potential. This focus on a holistic system with many moving parts contributing to the whole is very characteristic of Emerson’s work. It is the combination of all these elements—and not these elements on their own—that open the door for spiritual development.

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