Emerson and Thoreau

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An influential literary movement in the nineteenth century, transcendentalism placed an emphasis on the wonder of nature and its deep connection to the divine. As the two most prominent figures in the transcendentalist movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau whole-heartedly embraced these principles. In their essays “Self-Reliance” and “Civil Disobedience”, Emerson and Thoreau, respectively, argue for individuality and personal expression in different manners. In “Self-Reliance”, Emerson calls for individuals to speak their minds and resist societal conformity, while in “Civil Disobedience” Thoreau urged Americans to publicly state their opinions in order to improve their own government. Both Thoreau and Emerson…show more content…
Emerson and Thoreau argue that only through self-reliance and civil disobedience can society and government be saved from corruption and incompetence. A key difference between the philosophies of Emerson and Thoreau as articulated in “Self-Reliance” and “Civil Disobedience” is their vision of how individuals should shape society and government. Emerson believes that one should only follow his own conscience and intellect not the opinions of the crowd. Emerson argues that it is not only possible to successfully defy the common practices and beliefs of society, but that “to be great is to be misunderstood” (Emerson 367). However, Thoreau believes that in a democracy the voice of the people as whole should be followed. Thoreau desires a “better government”, not anarchy devoid of the law where every individual follows his own set of rules (Thoreau 381). Although assuredly in favor of individuality, Thoreau recognizes that a democracy requires public consensus and popular support. While Emerson and Thoreau certainly have difference of opinions, they recognize the need for public discussion and discourse. Emerson declares “a foolish consistency” to be “the hobgoblin of little minds” (Emerson 367). This is shown in their essays “Self-Reliance” and “Civil Disobedience” in which they support individuality and personal expression. Despite their contrasting views of society and government, the two most
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