Argumentative Essay on Transcendentalism

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When was the last time you sat down in nature and looked around? For many people, the hustle and bustle of our daily lives means that we do not often find ourselves contemplating the beauty of nature. Even the simplest and ordinary aspects of nature, such as a single blade of grass, can become complex and extraordinary when we view it from different perspectives. In transcendentalist poetry and literature, nature is a key aspect that many authors use to highlight the importance of staying in touch with God and oneself. “A Song of Myself,” by Walt Whitman, emphasizes this transcendentalist approach through the use of nature as a passageway to achieving a direct relationship with the divine and as a guide to individualistic self-discovery that expands beyond worldly experience. With the combination of these elements, Whitman hopes to inspire the reader to get lost in nature, as it is the only place where one can truly understand themselves and the cosmos around them.

Transcendentalism is the idea that all people have knowledge that “transcends” beyond their physical bodies. The bond between the individual and the divine is perhaps the most important aspect of transcendentalism, and this bond is achieved through the individual’s connection with nature. “A Song of Myself” explores this relationship, as Whitman believes “the hand of God is the elder hand of my own” and “the spirit of God is the eldest brother of my own” (Whitman 82-83). In this way, Whitman views God as being part of himself rather than a separate being. Nature, God, and man are all interconnected in a web of life and it is only through becoming one with nature that one can become closer to the divine.

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Although people who practiced transcendentalist principles believed in God, they did not have the same views about God being a separate entity nor did they follow specific religious practices. Their non-conformist perspectives went against what the Unitarian church would accept, which is why Whitman’s views were seen as radical at the time. Transcendentalists like Whitman believed that it is only through truly understanding nature that one can achieve a more direct relationship with God. But rather than focusing on religious principles, transcendentalism emphasizes the concept of the “over-soul.” This “over-soul” is a divine spirit present in all beings and helps to form a “cosmic unity” between man, God, and nature—a belief that is more personal and individualistic in approach. (Manzari). Similarly, Whitman highlighted that the relationship between God and oneself should be more intimate, rather than shared with others like in organized religion. Nature acts as a gateway to achieving this relationship which leads to the acquisition of knowledge and self-actualization that transcends beyond physical limits.

In the 19th century, the attitude towards nature was more analytical and scientific in approach, as people viewed nature as something to be studied rather than experienced. However, transcendentalists believed that nature is not subordinate to man, but rather that man and nature are interconnected. Whitman viewed himself as part of nature, as he described the atmosphere of nature as being his “respiration and inspiration” (Whitman 15). To forge this relationship, however, one must embrace the odorless and inviting atmosphere of nature and live a life free from the intoxicating “perfumes” of society. This relationship allows man to open up and let the “kosmos” flow through, achieving a sense of harmony with oneself and nature (Merrill).

In an increasingly modernized world that stressed conformity, industrialization was taking away nature from man and suppressing individuality, as people were seen as tools in a factory rather than individuals with thoughts and feelings. Transcendentalists were opposed to the materialism of the modern age, thus supporting the notion of a self-sufficient man and embracing individualism above all else. Nature then became the pathway one could take to discover their true essence. It is only when one becomes fully immersed in nature that one can “reconnect with the organic nature of the self.” This transcendental belief rejected the conformist, religious views that tended to confine and repress the development of the individual, rather than cultivate it. (Baratta). Whitman certainly stresses the importance of individualism in “A Song of Myself” when he claims that although he can help guide you on a “road” to self-discovery, “not I, not anyone else can travel that road for you, you must travel it for yourself” (Whitman 1207-1208). Whitman’s goal was to support the notion that the individual is part of nature, and it is only when one is completely immersed that one can discover their true self that transcends their corporeal existence.

In transcendentalism, an intense immersion of oneself in nature is desired to create an intimate relationship with God and to discover one’s true potential that reaches beyond the sphere of earthly experience. Nature, therefore, acts as a spiritual guide that enables one to live a life free from the constraints and pressures of society. Unlike the Unitarian church, transcendentalists believed that God is found within oneself and it is only through the merging of oneself with nature that one will be able to create and foster a close and personal relationship with God. When it comes to the individual, nature aids in the cultivation of an individual’s potential which extends beyond the physical realm. Industrialism and scientific advancements overlooked the importance of individualism in favor of a more mechanized and objective view of people and nature. Transcendentalists like Whitman hoped to promote the idea of the self-reliant man, as one who “must habit yourself to the dazzle of the light and every moment of your life” (Whitman 1227). Like leaves of grass, each individual is unique yet connected to every other being and creature in nature and the over-arching universe. However, unlike the oppressive nature of society, nature does not judge or shame you—it sets you free.

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Argumentative Essay on Transcendentalism. (2024, March 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved June 12, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/argumentative-essay-on-transcendentalism/
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Argumentative Essay on Transcendentalism [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2024 Mar 27 [cited 2024 Jun 12]. Available from: https://edubirdie.com/examples/argumentative-essay-on-transcendentalism/
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