Comparing and Contrasting Self-Awareness in the Works of Emerson, Whitman and Poe

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Defining Self-Awareness in the works of Emerson, Whitman and Poe

Literature in the American Renaissance influenced the Romantic sentiment that prevailed during this period: the emergence of the individual. This materialization evolved out of the Age of Reason, when the question of using reason (a conscious state) or faith (an unconscious state) as a basis for establishing a set of beliefs divided people into secular and non-secular groups. Reacting to the generally submissive attitudes predominant in America at this time, nineteenth century writers envisioned "the source of religion within consciousness itself" (Chai, 10). This "secularization of religion" ultimately led to the "isolation of the self from others" (Chai, 10), and
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This individual is the Romantic hero, the one "who in the midst of a crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude" (Emerson, 263). Emerson explains how this transcendence from a dulled state of consciousness to a higher level of awareness is achievable if you "insist on yourself; [and] never imitate" (278). In his usual candid style, Whitman identifies himself as this hero in Song of Myself proclaiming, "I exist as I am, that is enough, / And if no other in the world be aware I sit content, / And if each and all be aware I sit content. / One world is aware, and by far the largest to me, and that is myself" (2759). Improbable as it seems, Poeâs hero begins to resemble the Îmeâ in Whitmanâs last line "who trustingly consults and thoroughly questions his own soul" (qtd in Rosenheim, 25). This correspondence in self-awareness links these authors to each other, and to Romanticism.

Clearly Emerson and Whitman leaned in one direction of Romanticism while Poe sought the other. Perhaps the most fascinating discovery though, is how on every front, Poe demonstrates a strikingly different perspective on self-awareness from that of Emerson and Whitman. Moreover, their ideas were not simply divided by their bias for either a conscious or unconscious state; in

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