His speech served as the inspiration for many future American writers, artists, and philosophers to create their own ideas, without regard to Europe and its antiquated traditions. To this end, Emerson uses literary devices to make various points in support of his overall theme.
Emerson makes frequent use of metaphor throughout his oration.
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One of the most powerful metaphors he used was the description of American society in The farmer farms. The salesman sells. The preacher preaches. And so on. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters, — a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man. Emerson paints a powerful image in this passage, with the use of multiple metaphors.
First, he compares society to a fountain of power which has become nothing more than spilt drops of water—making clear his views on the negative effects of job specialization on society. Like everyone else, scholars have also become too narrowly specialized. Through these metaphors, Emerson is telling all people who call themselves scholars that in order to become real men—real human beings—they need to confirm their existence through action.
The American Scholar
In other words, they need to take an idea from its initial form as a mere abstraction and turn it into something real and concrete. In doing so, these scholars have proven themselves to be complete men, adept at investigating, understanding, studying, and acting. The scholar is indeed depicted as the source of the intellectual soil that will bring the society forward.
Firstly, nature is deemed the most important influence of the mind. After all, Emerson states, the laws of nature are equivalent to the laws of the mind. Transcendentalism is certainly a forward-looking philosophy, which in many ways reflects the intellectual period of the relatively novel American experiments. Prominently, books must be written by each generation.
Emerson ascribes a great fallacy to the inherent authority attributed to books. Whereas the creed of manifest destiny held that America, because of the virtue of its people, where intended to expand across the North American continent, Emerson seemingly held an equivalent vision of an enhanced American intellectual life. However, their epistemological outlook is profoundly dissimilar. Locke and Bacon regarded the mind as initially vacant, and that the source of all knowledge comes from processed sensatory experiences.
That is, books should be used as a mean to promote individual thinking and thus, to assist people in their quest for truth, as opposed to being regarded as a source of truth. The scholar must be, as illustrated above, forward-looking in order to be the creator in his life. Again, Emerson relates his individual vision to his overall vision for America. This is unrealizable without action.
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However, according to Emerson, the source of wisdom does not derive merely from being an observer, which can be ascribed to empiricism. On the contrary, the higher — existential — form of knowledge does not lie in the external world.
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- MPENGLISHVICAS: Summary and Analysis of The American Scholar.
Indeed, Emerson holds that the individual is in the center of the universe, however, people are certainly not alone in the world, which is an indictment ascribed to creeds of so-called rugged individualism. Interestingly, and arguably inconsistently, Emerson refers to the world, but since his purpose is for America and its scholar to become cultivated and whole, the world evidently means America. Without it thought can never ripen into truth.
Whilst the world hangs before the eye as a cloud of beauty, we cannot even see its beauty. Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind. The American Scholar. A Noiseless Patient Spider by Walt Whitman has a key trait of the characteristics of transcendentalism as well.
The American Scholar Summary By Ralph Waldo Emerson • English Summary
The first stanza of the poem starts out by describing one isolated spider. Whitman describes the actions of this spider, as it flings its filaments, or silk webs, into the air. The arachnid is doing this in the hope of latching on to some sort of solid, stable surface. This would ensure it an easy groundwork for setting up the rest of its web. The observer in the poem remarks that he can see this spider as it repeats this tedious task over and over again.
In the second stanza, Whitman changes perspectives, instead focused on a human mortal. In the first stanza, the poet saw the desolate world the spider resided in.
see In the second stanza, the poet takes this lone spider and turns the creature into a metaphorical form of the human soul. Just like the spider, uncertain of its future, the human soul also wanders about aimlessly, hoping to grasp something stable that it can cling to. It is just as lonesome. This literary piece adds to the transcendental theme of the unknown.
Oftentimes, people find themselves drifting along in life, not knowing where they are headed. The human soul, too, must deal with the unknown. We search for a purpose, a meaning in our lives that will stabilize us.
Emerson believes that the scholar's duties are all comprised in what?
Without purpose, a person can stray from a better path; transcendentalists found comfort in knowing that the unknown is connected with some mystical higher being. Along those lines, Whitman shows that finding that sole purpose can be a long and tiresome task. Oftentimes it is repetitive and dismal, and the outcome is unspecified.
Thanatopsis exemplifies themes of nature and death. Transcendentalists immersed themselves in the natural world to connect with the divine otherworld. The American Scholar argued that in order to transcend the human body into a spiritual realm, you must first disengage from society.