Transcendentalism, A Powerful Intellectual And Philosophical Movement

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Transcendentalism, a powerful intellectual and philosophical movement founded by Ralph Waldo Emerson in the early nineteenth century, was guided by the principle that individuals are inherently good and function at their best when they are independent and self-reliant. Striving to produce a philosophy that would serve a new nation, transcendentalists believed that religious institutions and political parties would eventually corrupt the natural pure goodness of man. Transcendentalist ideology further asserts that by conforming to the standards set by society, man would not only lose the ability to follow his own instincts, but also become incapable of freely expressing himself. In his essay Self Reliance, Emerson writes, “Be yourself; no base imitator of another, but your best self. There is something, which you can do better than another. Listen to the inward voice and bravely obey that. Do the things at which you are great, not what you were never made for” (Emerson). Other writers and intellectuals such as Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson have adopted Emerson’s views on individuality and have expressed these ideals through their work. The spirit of individuality and self-reliance, key principles of Transcendentalism, are noted in Frederick Douglass’ Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Walt Whitman’s poem “Song of Myself” and Emily Dickinson’s poem “Nature (790).” Through their literary work, Douglass, Whitman, and Dickinson share
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