Theory and practice
Emerson and Thoreau
Aim of knowledge: 1. To make students get to know American Transcendentalism.
2. To make students get to know Emerson, Thoreau and their works.
Aim of ability: training of the ability to analyze literary works along with Transcendentalism.
Aim of quality: cultivate students’ tranquil mind with love of nature; identify individualism
Lecture, discussion, PPT presentation
Key points: Emerson and Self- Reliance, Nature, Thoreau and Walden
Difficulties: Background and features of Transcendentalism
教 学 内 容
Step 1 Transcendentalism
Transcendentalism, which flourished in New England from about 1836 to1860, marked the maturity of American Romanticism and the first Renaissance in the American literary history. The term was derived from Latin, meaning to rise above or to pass beyond the limits. It laid emphasis on spirit and individual and nature.
Transcendentalism is philosophical and literary movement It originated among a small group of intellectuals who were reacting against the orthodoxy of Calvinism and the rationalism of the Unitarian Church, developing instead their own faith centering on the divinity of humanity and the natural world.
2. Background of Transcendentalism
——the product of the combination of
Indian and Chinese religious teachings
3. Major Features of Transcendentalism
1) The Transcendentalists placed emphasis on spirit, or the Oversoul, as the most important thing in the universe.
The Oversoul was an all-pervading power for goodness, omnipresent and omnipotent, from which all things came and of which all were a part. It existed in nature and man alike and constituted the chief element of the universe.
2) The Transcendentalists stressed the importance of the individual.
To them the individual was the most important element of society. As the regeneration of society could only come about through the regeneration of the individual, his perfection, his self-culture and self-improvement, and not the frenzied effort to get rich, should become the first concern of his life.
The ideal type of man was the self-reliant individual whom Emerson never stopped talking about all his life.
The Transcendentalists like Emerson and Thoreau were telling people to depend upon themselves for spiritual perfection if they cared to make the effort because, in their opinion, the individual soul communed with the Oversoul and was therefore divine. Now this new notion of the individual and his importance represented, obviously, a new way of looking at man.
It was also a reaction against the process of dehumanization that came in the wake of developing capitalism. The industrialization of New England was turning men into nonhumans. People were losing their individuality and were becoming uniform. The Transcendentalists saw the process in progress and, by trying to reassert the importance of the individual, emphasized the significance of men regaining their lost personality.
3) The Transcendentalists offered a fresh perception of nature as symbolic of the Spirit or God.
Nature was, to them, not purely matter. It was alive, filled with God's overwhelming presence. It was the garment of the Oversoul. Therefore it could exercise a healthy and restorative influence on the human mind. What the Transcendentalists seemed to be saying was, "Go back to nature, sink yourself back into its influence, and you’ll become spiritually whole again.”
New England Transcendentalism was important to American literature.
(1) It inspired a whole new generation of famous authors as Emerson, Thoreau, Hawthorne, Melville, Whitman and Dickinson.
(2) It inspired one of America’s most prolific literary periods in its history.
Step2 Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882)
American philosopher, poet and essayist
The most eloquent spokesman of New England Transcendentalism.
Born in a clergyman's family in Boston
Graduate from Harvard
A Unitarian minister 唯一神教派
Abandoned Unitarianism and went to Europe searching for truth
Met Wordsworth, Carlyle and Coleridge
Founded a transcendental club and published a journal
Traveled and gave lectures; quite influential
2. Aesthetic Ideas
1) In Emerson's opinion, poets should function as preachers who gave directions to the mass.
7) Weakness: optimism, no sense of evil
His reputation fell in the 20th century because he firmly believed human and human society could be better. It seemed that he had no sense of evil and too optimistic about human nature and the society. Somebody once called this kind of optimism "Transcendental folly"
Emerson is the key intellectual and philosophical voice of 19th-century America.
Thoreau, Whitman, Dickinson, Hawthorne, Melville, Frost and Wallace Stevens and many others were indebted to him in varying degrees.
4. His Works
① Nature: It is regarded as "the manifesto of American Transcendentalism ". In this work, Emerson put forward that behind every phenomenon of the nature there was the spirit of the nature.
② The American Scholar：In this work, Emerson was trying to say that we Americans should stop imitating other countries in literature and we ought to create a way of our own.
——American intellectual Declaration of Independence”
“We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe… We will walk on our own feet, we will work with our own hands, we will speak our own minds.”
“There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide.”
Trust thyself: because “every heart vibrates to that iron string” of intuition and confidence
“Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.”
④ The Transcendentalist
5. Appreciate Self-Reliance (P20-22)
1) Key Words
2) Famous Sayings
Envy is ignorance;Imitation is suicide. 妒忌是无知，模拟是自杀。
Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.
Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.
No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.
3) What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it.
4) Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speaks what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradicts everything you said to-day.... Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood.
6. Appreciate Nature
1）To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars. The rays that come from those heavenly worlds, will separate between him and what he touches. One might think the atmosphere was made transparent with this design, to give man, in the heavenly bodies, the perpetual presence of the sublime.
Solitude”独处，隐逸” retire“（书）遁世，远离” chamber“居室” would“愿意，想要” sublime“崇高的” transparent“透明的” perpetual“永恒的” this design“造物主把空气涉及成透明的”
2）When we speak of nature in this manner, we have a distinct but most poetical sense in the mind. We mean the integrity of impression made by manifold natural objects.
3）The charming landscape which I saw this morning, is indubitably made up of some twenty or thirty farms. Miller owns this field, Locke that, and Manning the woodland beyond. But none of them owns the landscape. There is a property in the horizon which no man has but he whose eye can integrate all the parts, that is, the poet.
Step3. Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
Born in a common family in New England
Graduated from Harvard, but only stayed at home and helped family business
A student and friend of Emerson
Active in social life and had a strong sense of justice
not successful as a writer and lived in obscurity all his life
He was bred to no profession, he never married; he lived alone; he never went to church; he never voted; he refused to pay a tax to the State; he ate no flesh, he drank no wine, he never knew the use of tobacco, ... When asked at table what dish he preferred, he answered, “The nearest.”
He chose to be rich by making his wants few, …
2. Major Works
(1)Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854)
(2) It is regarded as 1) a nature book. 2.) a do-it-yourself guide to simple life. 3) a satirical criticism of modern life and living. “Civilized man is the slave of matter.”4) a belletristic (文学研究的）achievement. 5) a spiritual book.
Although Thoreau’s writing received little notice during his life, he is now recognized as a masterful prose stylist. The strength of Thoreau’s writing results from his aphoristic sentences格言警句; brief allegories; striking metaphors; use of rhetorical devices such as repetition, parallelism, and rhetorical questions.
Step 4 Key Points and Difficult Points
Key Points: Emerson and Self- Reliance, Nature
Thoreau and Walden
Difficult Points: Background and features of Transcendentalism
Step 5 Homework
Read Walden on P47-51 in Selected Readings, and answer the following questions:
1) Had Thoreau ever bought a farm? Why did he enjoy the act of buying?
2) Is it significant that Thoreau mentioned the Fourth of July as the day on which he began to stay in the woods? Why?
3) Please give us your opinion and evaluation about this masterpiece.
4) Talk your opinion on American individualism reflected in Self- Reliance. (第3题、第4题选任一题做)