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Ralph Waldo Emerson And Henry David Thoreau English Literature Essay

Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are two of the most influencing persons in American literature. Their influence has affected so many lives simply through their teachings and legacies. They made a huge imprint on life then and even bigger now. Moreover, not only their writings, but also the styles in which they wrote were a powerful force in American literature. Ralph, the face of transcendentalism, and Henry, the face of romanticism, both made their marks in things. Thoreau and Emerson’s movements did not only strike second-hand change; it also struck a non-immediate change for times later down the road. For instance heroic, civil rights icons like Martin King and Mohandas Gandhi, were inspired by the two and made a change based off of ideals of their literary works and genres. However, though these two authors helped bring about change, they both have varying outtakes on life. They both had different upbringings and life experiences. Henry challenged radicalized thoughts and took more of a conservative approach on life. He has beliefs but is relaxed in his practice of them. However, Ralph, is way more orthodox about his beliefs. He believed strongly that everything is connected to God and therefore, everything is divine. Take for instance nature: the two see nature having a connection to man somehow. Emerson sees it as having a spiritual connection while Thoreau sees it as having an obligation as man to care for earth. Lastly, even though this duo has things in common, their main objective is change. They strive for it and they live for it. Between these two influential figures, there is so much in common and so much that differs.

Primarily, these two writers are two of the most influential people in literature. They reshaped the not only literature but also America. In their era, they sparked a light in the young nation that would brighten the future. They wrote and inspired many with their striking words. For instance, Ralph says “A hero is no braver than an ordinary man, but he is brave five minutes longer.” (Emerson) Though only words, if they can hit with a force powerful enough to impact one man to change it is strong beyond recognition. Another example is from Thoreau. He states “Aim above morality. Be not simply good, be good for something.” (Thoreau) One can believe what he may as free will. It is one’s own opinion and option to think and live a certain way. Not many people at this time were strong nor articulate enough to to be able to challenge another man’s way and actually change. That’s the sign of a hero. They changed a broad variety of issues in their day. One problem they tackled was nature. Emerson actually had an essay on it. To begin his paper he starts off by saying “To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society.” (Emerson) He is trying to tell people that everyone needs to be alone at some point of time and that the best place to reside is nature. Even though people may not be keen upon living in the wilderness he wants them to live with a connection to the earth. This is proven when he says “The stars awaken a certain reverence, because though always present, they are inaccessible; but all natural objects make a kindred impression, when the mind is open to their influence.” (Emerson) On the other hand, Thoreau states probably his most powerful and well-known quote, “That government is best which governs least.” Though these two quotes completely differentiate in topics they both enlighten people to make a change for the better in themselves and as an entirety.

Continuing, these two guys were the leaders in literature in there times. They were both writers in the transcendentalism era. They pretty much dominated this time period. When talking about this transcendentalism, no one can really come close to these two in conversation except for maybe Emily Dickinson and Margaret Fuller. Other people like Charles Brooks, William Channing, Elizabeth Peabody, George Ripley are practically no names when in the conversation with Henry David Thoreau and Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau knew this and was arrogant to the fact. He states “As if you could kill time without injuring eternity.” (Thoreau) However, a great man once said something to the fact that true strength is knowing how to not use it. As a matter of fact, it was Emerson, coincidentally, who stated this. He said, “A great man is always willing to be little.” This is clearly the working of a wise man. Both men were exceptionally smart. They had a way with words that was so beautiful and masterful. The eloquence of their literary works were absolutely brilliant to the fact that even the most stubborn man were forced to take a second glance. When Emerson would say things like, “Peace cannot be achieved through violence, it can only be attained through understanding.” one’s mind would crumble to the influence of his idea. Also, when Thoreau speaks of such moral ideals that all men follow, he reinforces them to the point that no man can ever dare turn against the ideal humanistic sociological normalities that binds him with fellow man. Not only were the anticipated deep lines, struck interests, but also even the simplest of words were enough to make an impact. Thoreau just says, “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.” Sometimes the smallest of things are just the thing that people need. A little can go a long way but also be just enough to arrive to the destination. Which ever they did at whatever time they did it, could lead one to acknowledge that it was arranged damn near perfectly.

Moreover, the change that these two engenius men made not only affected the people of their time but also people literally a century proceeding their deaths. Even though they both were legends of the nineteenth century, they also proved to have major effects on the twentieth and even the twenty-first centuries. One of the most commonly noted movements in American history was inspired and driven by the ideals and opinions of Henry Thoreau. The Civil Rights Movement was one of America’s greatest eras. It helped shape America into the nation it is today. The leader of this movement was a man by the name of Martin Luther King Jr. He broke the barriers that so many before him were terrified to even place a finger upon let alone break down. “I am happy to join with you today in what will go down in history as the greatest demonstration for freedom in the history of our nation,” (King) he states as he addresses the Lincoln memorial introducing his ever so famous and intense speech, I Have A Dream. His movement was a lot like Gandhi’s. Mohandas Gandhi led a movement in both South Africa and India to free the two places from English stronghold. As impressing as that sounds, the more surprising thing is that he did it nonviolently. Martin was intrigued by this and decided to the same. They both were following the philosophy of David Thoreau. He wrote an essay entitled, Civil Disobedience. In it he expresses the fact that the government is not the people. He states, “The only obligation which I have a right to assume, is to do at any time what I think right.” (Thoreau) He finds that there is no making him do what they want for he will do as he likes. He also speaks about his beliefs on slavery and tells why he chooses not to pay New England taxes. He refuses to pay taxes to support a war that will end up spreading slavery into Mexico. Thoreau writes,

“There are thousands who are in opinion opposed to slavery and to the war, who yet in effect do nothing to put an end to them; who, esteeming themselves children of Washington and Franklin, sit down with their hands in their pockets, and say that they know not what to do, and do nothing; who even postpone the question of freedom to the question of free-trade, and quietly read the pricescurrent along with the latest advices from Mexico, after dinner, and, it may be, fall asleep over them both. What is the pricecurrent of an honest man and patriot to-day? They hesitate, and they regret, and sometimes they petition; but they do nothing in

earnest and with effect. They will wait, well disposed, for others to remedy the evil, that they

may no longer have it to regret. At most, they give only a cheap vote, and a feeble countenance

and Godspeed, to the right, as it goes by them.” (Thoreau)

as he expresses his anger towards those who are either too lazy or too afraid to speak up for what they believe in. He is upset because he sees a problem that needs to be fixed but is being prolonged by that fact that no one will stand up and fight for a change. Martin King felt this same way. He took long strides to become the leader he was. He was amidst a people that were all sitting down so he decided to be the odd man out and stand up. In the I Have a Dream Speech, Kings says, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” (King) For way too long this nation has been operating out of hypocrisy to it origins and no one was bold enough to challenge it. King lead a series of protests, boycotts, rallies, and marches all peacefully. These acts proved to be extremely effective. Following the ways of Thoreau, Martin turned this nation around for the good.

These icons in literature both have views for a main goal in life. However, they have different approaches to them due to their lifestyles and backgrounds. They both have religion in their lives but they have different ways to display it. Emerson is a person that has strong feelings about religion. He lives by his principles to a tee. While Thoreau lives by a more easy-going type lifestyle. He has religion but really lives by his own morals. These traits very well explain the two’s beliefs and actions. This can be established by simply reading and interpreting the ways in which they write. Though both are transcendentalists they both write from points of views that differ. Emerson one time states, “God screens us evermore for premature thoughts.” (Emerson) This out of many quotes shows how he believes God is a huge influence in everyday life. He finds God to be eminent in every person’s life. This is imminent in his life primarily for the reason that his father was a preacher. His aunt who was also strongly into religion was like a mentor to a young Ralph. After the death of his father, she would help out the Emerson household on and off, however, keeping constant contact with Ralph while gone. Thoreau, on the other hand, was more open and not so tied into religion. Thoreau was not really the product of a religious home. His family was actually kind of boring. In fact their biggest debacle was how to pronounce his name after he decided to change it.


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