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Literary Terms Vocabulary: Romanticism and Transcendentalism

Rev. June 2007

Ms. Burdette American Literature

As you are studying for your final exam, you will be pulling together ideas and improving your understanding
of literary periods. We have two final literary period to study: Romanticism & Transcendentalism. Since
Transcendentalism is an extreme form of Romanticism, the notes below review Romanticism before moving to
Transcendentalism. The chart below gives a quick overview of the literary periods we cover in this course.
Literary period


Extreme form
General Time Period

Great Awakening
Great Awakening:
about 1735-42

Age of Reason



Most of the 1800s (nineteenth
Late 1800s (late 19th c.) to
early 1900s (20th c.)
Transcendentalism: mid-1800s Naturalism: 1890s-early 20th
(developed 1830s-40s)
Local color movement:
Bridge from Romanticism to realism
Also a bridge: Whitman and Dickinson

Definition: A movement that flourished in literature, philosophy, music, and art in Western culture
during most of the 19th century, beginning as a revolt against classicism [the Age of Reason].
Guide to Life: intuition and emotion
19th century (mid-1800s)
o Close connection with nature
o Reliance on intuition and emotion (as opposed to faith, or reason/logic)
o Favors the mysterious and exotic, the picturesque, the emotional
o Upholds feelings and the imagination (not reason and fact)
o Glorifies nature (one kind of romanticism)
o upholds the notion that people are basically good and perfectable (one kind of romanticism)
(in contrast, remember that the Puritans believe that humans are innately evilthey
believe in original sin)
o May investigate the dark side of the human soul (another kind of romanticismex. Poe)
Contrast to Realism (realism shows life as it really is; Romanticism shows life as we might
imagine it to be, or think it should be
Authors and works:
o Nathaniel Hawthorne (The Birthmark, Dr. Heideggers Experiment)
o Edgar Allen Poe (short stories such as The Telltale Heart)
See Adventures in American Literature pages 1058, 119-125.
Transcendentalism: Notes
Definition: A philosophy which holds that basic truths can be reached through intuition rather than
through reason. To arrive at such truths, according to transcendentalist philosophy, people must go
beyond, or transcend, what their reason and their senses tell them. Transcendentalist thinkers,
influenced by Romanticism, stress the beauty of nature, the essential divinity of all people, and the
primary importance of the human spirit.
Transcendentalism: an extreme form of Romanticism. Traits especially shared with Romanticism:
reliance on intuition and emotion, close connection to nature.
Transcend = to go beyond. Transcendentalists believe in something beyond what we see, touch,
sense (as opposed to realismlearn by senses, reason, observation)

Developed in 1830s and 1840s.

Authors and Works:
o Ralph Waldo Emerson: essays Nature, Self-Reliance.
o Henry David Thoreau. essay Civil Disobedience and book Walden.

Transcendentalist Beliefs:
Guide to life: Intuition and emotion
(also traits of Romanticism: this is one form of Romanticism)
Truth is reached through intuition, helped by spiritual connection to nature
(NOT by observation, logic, and reasonas the Realists believe; realism is based on science,
in contrast to Romanticism and Transcendentalism. Puritans guide to life is religious faith.)
belief about human nature: people are basically good
(Romantics agree; so do those like Ben Franklin in the Age of Reason. The Puritans believe that
humans are basically sinful, evilthe concept of original sin dictates this.)
Believe in the oversoula shared universal soul that unites all forms of being
Transcendentalist Values:
Be true to yourself; trust yourself
Rejection of material possessions
Close connection to nature
Expressed by Emerson in essay Nature and Thoreau in Walden, a book detailing his experiences
living at Walden Pond. In this 2-year experiment, he lived simply, close to nature, in a cabin by the
shores of Walden Pond in Concord, Mass. He built this cabin himself, grew much of his own food,
fished in the pond, lived simply (rejecting material possessions) with little reliance on others.
Oversoul: a transcendentalist concept of a universal soul. All life is part of one universal soul (trees and
animals, humans and God); humans, therefore, have a divine nature.
Civil Disobedience: expressed in Thoreaus Civil Disobedience (essay)
o He refused to pay taxes because he felt he didnt wan to support an unjust government or
unjust war
o [NOT b/c he wanted to save $--reject material possessions!]
o spent a night in jail; a friend paid his taxes for him and bailed him out
o nonviolent resistance
o others whove employed nonviolent resistance, or civil disobedience:
Martin Luther King
Rosa Parks
American Civil Rights Movement, in general (1960s)
See page 208-209 in Adventures in American Literature, as well as glossary of terms and Nature and
Self-Reliance handouts.