A Guide to Transcendentalism in Literature

It is a philosophical, political, and literary movement whose father is Ralph Waldo Emerson and that proposes that knowledge can be obtained through the senses, intuition, and contemplation. 

It arose as a reaction to or protest against the general state of intellectualism and spirituality.

Explore Transcendentalism, its ideas, its most important figures, and its impact on American literature.



Characteristics of the Transcendentalism Movement

These are the main characteristics of the Transcendental Movement

  1. The roots of this philosophical movement go back to the theories of Immanuel Kant. and concerned himself with the abstractions of existence – those things which cannot be known for sure.
  2. Transcendentalists believe that people are at their best when truly “self-reliant” and independent.
  3. Transcendentalists believe that individual intuition is the highest source of knowledge.
  4. Transcendental writers consider that religion and political parties corrupted the purity of the individual.
  5. A lot of the Transcendentalist writers wrote poetry as well as essays.
  6. The Transcendentalists believed that folks can understand truth through intuition.
  7. According to the Transcendentalists, the only way to access that realm of experience and knowledge is to trust in our intuition.
  8. Transcendentalists professed skepticism of all established religions, believing that Divinity resided in the individual.
  9. Transcendentalists believed that nature and man are intertwined and designed to fit together like pieces of a larger puzzle and that total consciousness could be achieved through observing nature
  10. Transcendentalists believe that the universe is within ourselves.
  11. Trascentalism opposed slavery and gender inequality

 Authors and Literary Works

These are main authors of the transcendental movement

  • Emerson, Ralph Waldo (1803-1882) was an American essayist, lecturer, and poet who led the transcendentalist movement of the mid-19th century. He was seen as a champion of individualism
  • Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817 – May 6, 1862) was an American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, and historian. A leading transcendentalist, Thoreau is best known for his book Walden, a reflection upon simple living in natural surroundings, and his essay “Civil Disobedience”
  • Sarah Margaret Fuller Ossoli (May 23, 1810 – July 19, 1850), commonly known as Margaret Fuller, was an American journalist, critic, and women’s rights advocate associated with the American transcendentalism movement.

Other Literary Movements and Periods

While the Transcendentalist movement had waned by the late 1840s, its influence continued to resonate in American literature and philosophy.

Transcendentalist ideas laid the groundwork for later movements, including American Romanticism and various social and cultural reform movements in the 19th and 20th centuries.

If you want to learn more about literary periods and movements, consider visiting some of these posts:

Manuel Campos, English Professor

Manuel Campos

I am Jose Manuel, English professor and creator of EnglishPost.org, a blog whose mission is to share lessons for those who want to learn and improve their English