Individualism in Early American Literature Essay

1099 Words May 18th, 2008 5 Pages
Early American literature is full of the spirit of individualism. This spirit can best

be described by Emerson when he says, "Good men must not obey the laws too well".

This view has long been an inspiration for future generations of Americans to start some

of the greatest reformations of our history. Among the literary units that show support for

Emerson's idea, there are three that are more powerful at conveying this spirit. The

Revolutionaries, the Transcendentalists, and the Dark Romantics, all support Emerson's

quote because they show that a truly righteous individual is not one that conforms to

society's standards, but rather judges his/her actions based on his/her reason and what

he/she has discovered
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Thoreau instead offers an alternative, "The only obligation

which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think is right" (Thoreau 250).

This relates back to Emerson's idea of self-reliance; a person, according to Thoreau, must

be reliant on himself/herself and not on the government. The power of change is in the

people, the government "does not keep people free. It does not settle the West. It does not

educate" (Thoreau 250). Thoreau's view on the importance of the individual over the

government supports Emerson's quote because a good person's laws are entirely based

on what the person has decided right for himself/herself.

Although the Dark Romantics do not have the optimism if the transcendentalists,

they still believe in the importance of a person's independence from accepted standards,

as evident in Hawthorne's "The Minister's Black Veil". Mr. Hooper is the only person

who is willing to admit the truth that every person in his community has secret sin,

represented by his black veil. However, the society is afraid to admit this truth; "not one

ventured to put the plain question to Mr. Hooper, wherefore he did this thing"

(Hawthorne 303). Although this admittance makes a Mr. Hooper a fearful person for the

community, he is only feared because the congregation is actually afraid of its own secret

sinfulness. When…