Nature Themes

The main themes in Nature are nature as a transcendental experience and nature as an individual experience.

  • Nature as a transcendental experience: Emerson posits that it is only through interaction with and immersion in nature that people can achieve a more enlightened state, free from the corruption of society.
  • Nature as an individual experience: Isolation and self-reflection within nature can help an individual achieve self-fulfillment and obtain greater self-knowledge.


Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on September 5, 2023, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 656

Nature as a Transcendental Experience

Emerson is both a Romantic and transcendentalist. Both schools of thought focus on the subjects of Nature and individualism. For the transcendentalist, Nature is the place to go in order to find oneself; therefore, Emerson wants his readers to experience Nature firsthand and, in doing so, attain self-realization, experience freedom, and transcend beyond a superficial state of existence.

Emerson believes in a kind of harmony between Nature and humanity. He feels that people can only become their best, most satisfied, divinely-created selves within the context of Nature. Moreover, he feels that an occult, or hidden, relationship exists between humans and Nature—both creations of God. In Emerson’s view, when one leaves the material and social worlds behind and goes into Nature, one can be restored to "reason and faith." It gives one a chance to be closer to divinity and to understand humankind’s often concealed relationship with the natural world. 

Having been raised as a Unitarian, Emerson has an unorthodox view of divinity compared to other Christians of his day. He believes in universal truths that can be discovered and intuitively experienced directly from Nature, as opposed to truths dictated by a single denomination. He also believes that all things are connected to a divine source (which may not necessarily be the single patriarchal being envisioned by certain sects), meaning that all things in Nature are divine.

Nature as an Individual Experience

Emerson's text argues for and illustrates the importance of the individual. Like many other transcendentalists, Emerson thought that contemporary society could have a detrimental and corrupting influence on the individual. He argues that one must find solitude in order to seek out that which is most important in life. Often, one must depart from one’s "chamber" and "society" to find that solace. One finds such solace not just from reading and encountering the voices of others through books but also by going out into Nature to be alone.

In other words, people come to understand themselves and the world more deeply when in Nature. Such experiences also allow them to escape their own egos or superficial concerns and attain a form of solitude that can aid in finding self-fulfillment:

Nature offers us the opportunity to be truly alone, a fundamentally important experience for human beings living in society.

Nature restores people to more complete and enlightened versions of themselves whenever they seek solace away from the troubles, concerns, and distractions of communal living. Seeking such solace in Nature brings people away from contact with society and into contact with divinity, allowing them to become one with a collective, universal whole.

Emerson’s emphasis on individual experience betrays his intellectual roots in Romanticism. Like other Romantic thinkers and artists, Emerson respects the importance of imagination and perception, both of which faculties are most deeply exercised on an individual basis. Thus, Emerson is hardly alone in his appeal to readers to set forth on their own respective paths.

Curiosity over Knowing

Emerson’s Nature champions an open mind over concrete knowledge. One of the key points he makes throughout the text is that nothing can truly be proven: even the existence of Nature cannot be “proven” as real. There is nothing to disprove the idea that everything is an illusion. This does not seem to trouble Emerson, though. It actually seems to be quite liberating because the focus turns to making some kind of meaning from what we witness. Nature is symbolic and valuable, and it is only through immersion into it with an open mind that this is truly seen. Interestingly, Emerson suggests that we often undervalue or discredit the actual might of the natural world around us. Firm belief systems—such as philosophy or religion—fail to embody the full depth of Nature. As a result, Emerson points to symbols and poetic interpretations that allow for enlightenment. This school of thought is not rigid but curious.

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