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Browse all BookRags Study Guides. Copyrights Transcendentalism from Gale. All rights reserved. Toggle navigation. Sign Up. Sign In. Get Transcendentalism from Amazon. View the Study Pack. Order our Transcendentalism Study Guide. Historical Context. Movement Variations. He ate wild berries and apples, and occasionally a fish that he had caught, and once killed and cooked a woodchuck that had ravaged his bean-field. He so arranged his affairs that he had to work only a little at a time for his upkeep, and he kept a broad margin to his life for reading, thinking, walking, observing, and writing.
For more than five years I maintained myself thus solely by the labor of my hands, and I found, that by working about six weeks in a year, I could meet all the expenses of living. The whole of my winters, as well as most of my summers, I had free and clear for study. It is not necessary that a man should earn his living by the sweat of his brow, unless he sweats easier than I do.
1. Origins and Character
But these inventions were products of a larger movement, the industrial revolution, in which Thoreau saw the potential for the destruction of nature for the ends of commerce. In Thoreau's view, technology also provoked an excitement that was counterproductive because it served as a distraction from the important questions of life. Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York.
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We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate. The railroad was made the symbol of technology, and the language Thoreau uses to describe it expressed his ambivalence. I watch the passage of the morning cars with the same feeling that I do the rising of the sun, which is hardly more regular.
Their train of clouds stretching far behind and rising higher and higher, going to heaven while the cars are going to Boston, conceals the sun for a minute and casts my distant field into the shade, a celestial train beside which the petty train of cars which hugs the earth is but the barb of the spear. The stabler of the iron horse was up early this winter morning by the light of the stars amid the mountains, to fodder and harness his steed.
Fire, too, was awakened thus early to put the vital heat in him and get him off. If the enterprise were as innocent as it is early! If the snow lies deep, they strap on his snow-shoes, and with the giant plow, plow a furrow from the mountains to the seaboard, in which the cars, like a following drill-barrow, sprinkle all the restless men and floating merchandise in the country for seed. All day the fire-steed flies over the country, stopping only that his master may rest, and I am awakened by his tramp and defiant snort at midnight, when in some remote glen in the woods he fronts the elements incased in ice and snow; and he will reach his stall only with the morning star, to start once more on his travels without rest or slumber.
Or perchance, at evening, I hear him in his stable blowing off the superfluous energy of the day, that he may calm his nerves and cool his liver and brain for a few hours of iron slumber. If the enterprise were as heroic and commanding as it is protracted and unwearied! NATURE Thoreau was a dedicated, self-taught naturalist, who disciplined himself to observe the natural phenomena around Concord systematically and to record his observations almost daily in his Journal.
The Journal contains initial formulations of ideas and descriptions that appear in Thoreau's lectures, essays, and books; early versions of passages that reached final form in Walden can be found in the Journal as early as Thoreau's observations of nature enrich all of his work, even his essays on political topics. Images and comparisons based on his studies of animal behavior, of the life cycles of plants, and of the features of the changing seasons illustrate and enliven the ideas he puts forth in Walden. All day long the red squirrels came and went, and afforded me much entertainment by their manoeuvres.
The grass flames up on the hillsides like a spring fire,--"et primitus oritur herba imbribus primoribus evocata,"--as if the earth sent forth an inward heat to greet the returning sun; not yellow but green is the color of its flame;--the symbol of perpetual youth, the grass-blade, like a long green ribbon, streams from the sod into the summer, checked indeed by the frost, but anon pushing on again, lifting its spear of last year's hay with the fresh life below.
So our human life but dies down to its root, and still puts forth its green blade to eternity. Once it chanced that I stood in the very abutment of a rainbow's arch, which filled the lower stratum of the atmosphere, tinging the grass and leaves around, and dazzling me as if I looked through colored crystal. It was a lake of rainbow light, in which, for a short while, I lived like a dolphin.
If it had lasted longer it might have tinged my employments and life. The love of nature that is evident in Thoreau's descriptions in Walden is one of the most powerful aspects of the book. The environmental movement of the past thirty years has embraced Thoreau as a guiding spirit, and he is valued for his early understanding of the idea that nature is made up of interrelated parts.
He is considered by many to be the father of the environmental movement. All of his writing except his poetry is expository--he wrote no fiction--and much of it is built on the framework of the journey, short or long, external or interior. The speaker--and it is useful to remember that almost all of Thoreau's published essays and books were first presented as lectures--sets out from home in each case, and the reader experiences the wonders of each new place with him, sharing the meditations it inspires, and finally returning with him to Concord with a deeper understanding of both native and foreign places and of the journeying self.
Other essays take the reader on different kinds of journeys--through the foliage of autumn "Autumnal Tints" , through the cultivated and wild orchards of history "Wild Apples" , through the life-cycle of a plot of land as one species of tree gives way to another "The Succession of Forest Trees".
Nature is Thoreau's first great subject; the question of how we should live is his second. One series of his essays deals with issues of personal exploration and renewal. In the s and s a wave of reform movements of all kinds swept New England. The issues involved ranged from women's rights to temperance, from education to religion, from diet to sex. In general, Thoreau did not support reform movements; after he was invited to join the model community at Brook Farm, he wrote in his Journal, "As for these communities--I think I had rather keep batchelor's hall in hell than go to board in heaven.
Although he wrote in Walden , I sometimes wonder that we can be so frivolous, I may almost say, as to attend to the gross but somewhat foreign form of servitude called Negro Slavery, there are so many keen and subtle masters that enslave both north and south. It is hard to have a southern overseer; it is worse to have a northern one; but worst of all when you are the slave-driver of yourself.
Homework for me
Considering his neighbors' dismissive responses to Brown at the news of his death, Thoreau wrote,. I hear another ask, Yankee-like, "What will he gain by it? Such a one has no idea of gain but in this worldly sense. If it does not lead to a "surprise" party, if he does not get a new pair of boots, or a vote of thanks, it must be a failure. No doubt you can get more in your market for a quart of milk than for a quart of blood, but that is not the market that heroes carry their blood to.
Thoreau's most famous essay is "Civil Disobedience," published in as "Resistance to Civil Government. Encourage students to explain the relationship between the quotations they've chosen and the basic characteristics of transcendentalism, as identified in the previous session. After students have all had a chance to identify a quotation, ask them to share their quotation and ideas with the class. Introduce Emerson's essay " Self-Reliance " as another text that demonstrates transcendental thought. Read and discuss the excerpt you've chosen from Emerson's " Self-Reliance " with the students, using the following questions to guide your exploration of the text.
What does Emerson mean when he says that "envy is ignorance and imitation is suicide"? What does he say about "power" and "work"?
How is trust a part of being self-reliant? Why does Emerson see society as the enemy of individuality? What is the role of nonconformity? What did that word mean to Emerson? What is a "foolish consistency"? How does it get in the way of genius? Ask students to identify the key elements of self-reliance as defined by Emerson in their readings.
These elements should be generated by the responses to the questions. To summarize the characteristics of transcendental thought covered so far in the lesson, have students fill in the Examples of Transcendental Thought interactive or handout. If time is short, this work can be completed as homework.
Collect and review the graphic organizer to check students' understanding to this point. Invite students to share their findings and answer any questions about transcendentalism that they have at this point. Read the excerpts from Thoreau's Walden.
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Ask students to identify how Thoreau is practicing the philosophy Emerson writes about in the excerpts read previously. Students can use the information that they have recorded on the Examples of Transcendental Thought interactive or handout as a resource at this point. Explain the historical connection between the two writers: Emerson as teacher and Thoreau as practitioner. If desired, students can complete the Examples of Transcendental Thought interactive or copies of the handout again, this time recording examples from Thoreau's writings as a class, in small groups, or individually.
Ask students to go back to the questions they answered in Session One, and have them revise their responses based on what they have learned so far about Transcendentalism. Students should have a good working knowledge of the characteristics of transcendentalism before moving on to the next session.
In particular, you'll be looking at comic strips and songs, but encourage students to share examples that they find in other media as well e. Divide students into small groups, and provide each group with copies of several comic strips that reflect the transcendental qualities discussed to this point see the article " Multigenre, Multiple Intelligences, and Transcendentalism " for examples and ideas. Ideally, if you have published collections of comic strips available, each group can search a book. Ask the students to read the strips paying close attention to both the text and the drawings with the goal of identifying the literary elements of transcendentalism.
Review the characteristics of transcendentalism from previous sessions. Give the groups 15 to 20 minutes to read and enjoy the comics, asking them to find connections to the concepts you've discussed regarding transcendentalism.