The works of Henry David Thoreau clearly show his belief in
transcendentalism. The dictionary defines transcendentalism as any system of
philosophy emphasizing the intuitive and spiritual above the empirical and material. “Walden”, a story that describes Thoreau’s experiences while living on Walden Pond, emphasizes the importance of individuality and self-reliance. Thoreau’s essay, “Civil Disobedience”, advocates the importance of prioritizing one’s principles over the laws of the government. It also criticizes the American social institutions and polices. In both literary works, Thoreau incorporates multiple illustrations of transcendentalism.
The story of “Walden” begins with the narrator explaining that during his two year stay at Walden Pond he was spiritually enriched. Walden Pond provided the narrator with the opportunity to view society from the outside and observe that most men lead
their lives in desperation. Thoreau believed that men wasted their lives by chasing after material possessions. He sensed that this behavior caused people to focus their attention on labor, losing inner freedom.Thoreau illustrates this point by saying farming has become another dehumanizing way to accumulate wealth. Thoreau discovers through his own "economy" what is really necessary to live a fulfilled life. For example: He builds a cabin, for the cost of $28. 12 by selling the beans he grew. By working odd jobs, he is able to make a profit of $8.71. Hence, he is able to support himself with very little work and still has time for personal reflection.
Thoreau’s transcendentalist beliefs are continually reflected in his writings.
“When one has reduced a fact of the imagination to be a fact of his understanding, I
foresee that all men will at length establish their lives on that basis.” The narrator
recommends that people should not listen to society’s definition of life, but
confront life in a new way.Thoreau believed that each man, through the potential power of his intellect, has the ability to become god-like. Thoreau felt that too many people look to their family members to define the meaning of life. He thought discarding society’s views would allow each person to discover the meaning of life for themselves.
In the chapter, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For,” Thoreau suggests that self-improvement, is the nurturing of our intellectual and spiritual needs: “We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake . . . by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which
does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. ” The narrator announced that the first step to personal reform is the act of turning inward to discover one's potential for greatness. As
the narrator bathes in the pond, the reader discovers a symbol of spiritual purification, the
religious ceremony of baptism. The narrator is careful to make this allusion clear: "I got
up early and bathed in the pond; that was a religious exercise, and one of the best things which I did.
Thoreau describes a “delicious evening” in which he feels at one with nature, “a part of her.” It is cool and windy, but however the bullfrogs and night animals give it a particular appeal. In the story, “Walden,” Thoreau comments that even though his closest neighbor is a mile away, the solitude he experiences makes him feel as if he could be in Africa or Asia. Ironically, he is not alone in his solitude, since he is “suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite.