Were transcendentalists who critiqued contemporary society for its “unthinking conformity”, and urged that each person find, in Emerson’s words, “an original relation to the universe”. In excerpts from Emerson’s Self Reliance, he argues that the mindset that individuals adopt surrounding societal progress has adverse effects on one’s personal growth, while excerpts from Thoreau’s Walden depict his more intense belief that individuals must fully immerse oneself in the natural world and strip themselves of all influences from the materialistic world to live a spiritually meaningful life.
Though Thoreau and Emerson have idealistic and practical ideas that should remain available for people to analyze and look upon as inspiration, today’s advanced society might not be able to truly comprehend their work, perceiving these beliefs as extreme and unnecessary.
For example, when Emerson uses the metaphor of a rose to criticize the tendency that mankind has with focusing on the past unrealizing that the past has paved way for the present, stating, the author states “There is no time to them.
There is simply the rose; it is perfect every moment of existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root, there is no less”. The juxtaposing phrases “full-blown flower” and “leafless root” emphasize how no matter the stage of a flower’s life it always has the same potential no matter its beginning. The author ultimately believes that similar to a rose, humans are “perfect every moment of existence” and should shy away from revolving around time and simply live in the present.
On the other hand, Thoreau’s logic allows readers to come to terms with how society’s preoccupation with money and wealth seems to be foolish in that they are transient and they cost humanity.
Thoreau introduces the idea of perspective to illustrate two separate worlds: one in which desires have taken over and another where there are simply needs he states “Some things are really necessaries of life in some circles, the most helpless and diseased, which in others are luxuries merely, and in others still are entirely unknown”. The juxtaposition of the phrases “necessaries” which denotes to the basic requirements of life, such as food and warmth and “luxuries” which denote to the conditional basis of life determined by who lives it. The author illuminates that when material influences are ridden for individuals who are apart of both worlds there is only what makes up a person that remains. Furthermore, Emerson’s diction in Self Reliance he critiques how as society has enforced expectations, individuals have lost their ability to form their own moral sense and experience individual success due to their conformity.
The author states “They measure their esteem off of each other by what each has, and not by what each is”. Emerson hints at the corruption of mankind highlighting how man fails to recognize their own achievement and success because they are busy comparing themselves material rather than substance. By including the phrases “measure”, “each has” and “each is” the author represents imagery of a scale that weighs the value of materialistic possessions and unique ideas, thoughts, and characteristics that make a person up. This image hints at how respect should not be determined based off of possessions but who an individual is. The tendency of society to undermine a person’s capability because of what they own is yet another tendency that prohibits people from being successful (becoming their own genius). In conclusion, Thoreau and Emerson’s work look at social issues directly and could be beneficial to many today as a reminder of how to find the meaning of life, in today’s world these concerns are easily misconceived and underrated.