Ralph Waldo Emerson's View Of Individualism And Transcendentalism

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“Without a notion of the transcendental, human beings would, indeed, be animals; however, only fools can be convinced of it, and only degenerates need such a conviction”. This quote by Franz Grillparzer, a well-known composer, shows his view on the topic of transcendentalism. As a rather extreme liberal, his views favor civil liberties and the topic of individualism is one that is highly thought of in the liberal community. Before a discussion on individualism, one must know what it is. There are a number of acceptable definitions, these all include a basic need to separate oneself from society to find oneself, either figuratively or literally. Some like transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson believe that one should separate from society but …show more content…
Transcendentalism can be expressed in different definitions for different people. While some say that it is simply the shunning of society and conformity, others go as far as saying one must actually leave society to fully find oneself and to fully explore individualism. While McCandless’ decision to go into the Alaskan wilderness with a bag of rice and a .22 rifle for supplies was not necessarily the smartest idea, the general principle of leaving society to find oneself was obligatory to his path to individualism. In addition, this shunning of society is encouraged in “Self Reliance”. This is an essay written by Ralph Waldo Emerson in an attempt to discourage conformity in favor of individualism. This essay states: “The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried” (Emerson, Self-Reliance). In other words, one should test their abilities and their convictions before they let anyone, even themselves, discourage them in that pursuit. Being that what you will accomplish through the effort will always far outweigh what you knew or had accomplished beforehand. Furthermore, this belief is shown in the novel. As the author, Jon Krakauer, is investigating the scene of Chris’ death, he finds a book he had been reading just prior to his death, and written in the margins is a profound …show more content…
This characterization can be defined as a belief that one should act for themselves based on their own morals. An example of this is one of Henry David Thoreau, another highly regarded transcendentalist, who believed in exactly that. In his Essay “Civil Disobedience” he recounts a time when he was arrested by virtue of him not paying his poll tax over the fact that it paid for the Mexican-American war and he did not believe that the government should be fighting over oil. Furthermore, in his essay, he states: “I did not for a moment feel confined, and the walls seemed a great waste of stone and mortar” (Thoreau, Civil Disobedience). By this he means that he felt free from the shackles of society and that the police were wasting their time and energy in confining him due to the fact that they were trying to isolate an individualist. In pursuing this concept, it is also shown in the book by Chris breaking the law when he believes it is unjust. For backstory, Chris had been hitchhiking for a while until a man named Gallien pulls over and picks him up. (At this time, to hide his identity, Chris is calling himself Alex). For good reason, Gallien is curious why “Alex” was going into the Alaskan wilderness with only some rice and a tiny rifle. In addition, while he is questioning him, Gallien asks whether he had a hunting license. “’Hell no’ Alex scoffed. ‘How I feed myself is

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