||The Transcendentalists are often defined as a group of people in the nineteenth century who were obsessed with the natural world and indulged themselves in spiritual life, regardless of real life. As a leader of Transcendentalism, Ralph Waldo Emerson used to be portrayed as a spiritual man who always emphasizes spiritual life and the relationship between man and nature. Some people even regard him as a remote figure, who appears to be isolated and always detaches himself from the mundane world.
It is a pity, however, if we interpret Emerson’s thoughts merely as advocating the importance of nature; in fact, the relationship between the individual and society is also worth an investigation. In his opinion, the amelioration of society depends so much on well-cultivated individuals that the cultivation of them, which can only be completed by both immerging themselves in nature and contacting society, becomes very important. Thus, to show Emerson as a man with broad perspectives, this thesis aims to study his vision on both nature and society as well as his connection with nineteenth-century American society.
Chapter one introduces the social phenomena of nineteenth century America and investigates how these, especially politics, religion and slavery, motivated Emerson and other Transcendentalists to emphasize the importance of the individual. As the reform of the individual plays an important role in the reform of the society, chapter two discusses not only Emerson’s view on the individual but also the cultivation of them through interaction with nature; however, the cultivation of the individual cannot be completed only by means of that interaction. Chapter three, therefore, presents the significance of society in the cultivation of the individual. It points out three possible situations concerning the interaction between the individual and society, passive, static and active, in which the individual cultivates himself in different ways and makes different contributions to society. Moreover, in order to demonstrate Emerson as not only a thinker but also a doer, this chapter, by putting Emerson in a historical context, also investigates his acting out his ideas in nineteenth-century American society.
Chapter four discusses how the society reacts to his thoughts and practice, that is, how Emerson influences his contemporaries and later generations. His influences are examined from three angles: slavery, politics and philosophy of life. The concluding chapter reemphasizes the importance of both nature and society in the cultivation of the individual and tackles the issue of thinking and action in the Transcendentalists. Emerson works out his own way of linking his vision and action through public lectures. By reading Emerson as both a thinker and a doer, this thesis hopes to uncover his transcendental vision and practical life.