Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne were two of the most important writers of the 19th century. Though they shared many similarities, their differences are what made them unique.
Emerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1803. He was a highly educated man, attending both Harvard University and the Divinity School at Harvard. After a brief stint as a minister, Emerson decided to focus on his writing. His essay “Nature” was published in 1836 and helped launch the Transcendentalist movement. Emerson believed that humans could connect with nature and God through intuition rather than reason. This belief is evident in his work, which often explores man’s relationship to the natural world.
Hawthorne, on the other hand, was born in Salem, Massachusetts in 1804. He too was a Harvard graduate but did not follow Emerson’s lead into the ministry. Instead, Hawthorne worked various odd jobs before becoming a full-time writer. His first novel, “Fanshawe,” was published anonymously in 1828. However, it was his second novel, “The Scarlet Letter,” that made Hawthorne a household name. This 1850 work explores the themes of sin and redemption against the backdrop of Puritan New England.
Though both men were from Massachusetts and had similar educational backgrounds, their views on life and their writing styles could not have been more different. Emerson championed intuition over reason and saw man as part of nature. Hawthorne, on the other hand, explored the darker side of human nature and was more interested in the individual than the universal. These differences are what made Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne two of the most important writers of the 19th century.
The transcendental era of American writing was a critical moment in the history of American literature. It produced several of America’s most renowned writers. The term “transcendentalism” refers to a belief system that emphasizes the spiritual and transcendental over the material. That implies that spirituality was more essential than material assets.
The two most well-known writers of this era were Ralph Waldo Emerson and Nathaniel Hawthorne. Emerson was a transcendentalist, and his writings display several aspects of this period. Individualism, nature, and human goodness are three others. Hawthorne was a non-transcendentalist in contrast to Emerson. The way he dealt with the same three qualities in his work shows why he is a non-transcendentalist because.
Nature is a huge part of transcendentalism. Ralph Waldo Emerson writes about it often and how important it is. In his essay “Nature” he states, “In the wilderness, I find something more dear and congenial than in streets or villages. In the tranquil landscape, and especially in the distant line of the horizon, man beholds somewhat as beautiful as his own nature” (Emerson).
What Emerson is saying is that when he looks at nature, he sees something that is almost as beautiful as he is. To Emerson, nature is a very spiritual place. It is a place where man can go to be close to God. He also believes that nature can teach us many things. In the same essay he states, “Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes.
I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or parcel of God” (Emerson). What he is saying here is that when he is in nature, he feels close to God and that he becomes a part of nature. He sees everything because he is one with everything. This is a very transcendental way of looking at things.
Hawthorne’s view of nature is much different. In his story “Young Goodman Brown” Hawthorne writes about a man who goes into the forest and has a very different experience than Emerson would have had. Goodman Brown sees evil things in the forest and he is terrified by them. He does not feel close to God at all. In fact, he begins to doubt his faith. This is a very non-transcendental way of looking at things. Nature is not a place of peace and serenity for Hawthorne, it is a place of fear and evil.
The goodness of mankind is another characteristic that is looked at differently by Emerson and Hawthorne. Emerson believes that people are basically good. In his essay “Self-Reliance” he states, “Every man I meet is my superior in some way, In that I learn from him” (Emerson).
What Emerson is saying here is that he learns from every person he meets and that everyone has something to teach him. He also believes that people are basically good and that they are capable of great things. In the same essay he states, “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius” (Emerson).
What Emerson is saying here is that everyone has their own thoughts and beliefs and that they should follow them. This is a very transcendental way of looking at things. Hawthorne’s view of mankind is much different. In his story “The Birthmark” Hawthorne writes about a man who married a woman who had a birthmark on her cheek.
Emerson was a devout transcendentalist who wrote extensively on the subject of nature. Emerson was quite vocal about his love for nature. In his essay “Nature” and poem “The Rhodora,” he expresses his opinion of nature in two excellent examples. He says, in line four of “The Rhodora,” “This charm is wasted on earth and sky.” What he means by this is how beautiful and wonderful something as simple as a flower may be. He is implying that this flower has an elegance that transcends the ordinary world and can only be appreciated through simple observation.
Emerson also wrote an essay entitled “Nature” in which he writes “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.”
In this quote Emerson is saying that a person does not need to be physically alone to be emotionally alone. Being emotionally alone means that you have time to reflect on your life and what it means to you without outside influences clouding your judgment. Sometimes being physically alone can help a person achieve this goal, but Emerson believes that it is possible to find emotional solitude even when surrounded by people.
Nathaniel Hawthorne was another transcendental writer who also frequently wrote about nature. In his short story “Rappaccini’s Daughter” Hawthorne writes “Nature, in her most beneficent moods, had taken this loveliest of her children, and fashioned her as nearly to her own ideal as might be consistent with the endurance of mortal flesh.”
In this quote Hawthorne is saying that nature is the perfect artist and that Rappaccini’s daughter is the closest thing to nature’s ideal that a human can be. He is also saying that even though she is close to nature’s ideal, she is still human and therefore mortal.
Both Emerson and Hawthorne believed that nature was important and that it could teach us things about ourselves and the universe. They both also believed that it was possible to find emotional solitude even when surrounded by people. However, they had different views on what nature’s ideal was. Emerson believed that nature’s ideal was something that went beyond reality, while Hawthorne believed that nature’s ideal was something that was close to reality but still human and mortal.