display | more...

Emerson, Thoreau, and Dickinson were transcendentalist Americans in the 19th century. Aside from being extraordinary writers, they were innovators and free thinkers; firm believers in nonconformity and self-reliance; and also ironically alike in their individuality. It’s not hard, and almost funny, to see their striking similarities when laid out, one right after another. One might label them as being hypocritical, it being so obvious that they influenced one another so greatly. But this is beside the point; and while it’s true that their ideas had to have been shared somewhere, or taken from someone, each writer takes on his or her own identity. Emerson was the first, Thoreau was his disciple and intellectual brother, and Ms. Dickinson their sister. These similarities are best shown in their writing, both composed of and built on common styles, uses of syntax, and themes. If one weren’t familiar with each one, it would be hard to tell them apart.

First, while it is appropriate to acknowledge that these three thinkers were very different people with very different styles of writing, they have certain notable similarities that cannot be overlooked. For instance, while Emily Dickinson’s unique use of punctuation sets her apart from every other writer, her use of figurative language, and even capitalization, is not entirely original. Dickinson, Thoreau, and Emerson were all heavy users of personification, capitalizing such things as “Nature” and “Death,” as if these things would actually drop by for a card game or something (“Oh, hi Death, you look rather morbid today…”). In addition to this is imagery, – here, a display of simile – as shown in “The Conclusion” of Walden, where Thoreau makes the world into a ship, declaring that he would like to travel on deck, so as to “best see the moonlight amid the mountains.” Earlier, Emerson describes his profound, nature-induced trance: “I am nothing: I see all … I am part or parcel of God,” and Dickinson describes her individuality in “I felt a Funeral, / in my Brain,” as having been caused by a break in a “Plank in Reason” causing her to fall and hit a “World, at every plunge.” These breathtaking pictures, while at first seeming like some psychedelic tirade, are actually well-purposed, eloquently relating the writer’s point, and reinforcing their profound ideas by making the reader think a little more. All three use this for the same purpose, but in slight variations for their respective topics.

It’s notable that one of the more striking elements these writers have in common are their use of topic sentences with syntax, especially in paragraph/stanza structure. Emerson built paragraphs from meaningful and profound statements. He would take one of these statements and then expand upon it in the paragraph. For instance, in “Nature” and “Self-Reliance,” these idea-starters could very well make their own paragraph: “Nature is a setting that fits equally well a comic or a mourning piece,” “Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of the members,” “Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist,” etc. It is later that we see that Thoreau’s structure is almost identical to Emerson’s; the main deviation being that Thoreau would often use a rhetorical question – no less-meaningful – in place of a statement. Here are some examples of topic sentences from Walden and “Civil Disobedience:” “If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams … he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours;” “Why should we be in such a desperate haste to succeed, and in such desperate enterprises?” “What is -the American Government- but a tradition … endeavoring to transmit itself unimpaired to posterity, but each instant losing some of its integrity?” You could understand virtually all of his writing by reading only the first sentence of each paragraph! And don’t think that this trait – that of being direct to the point of ugliness - is simply a male fixation; Dickinson does it too (though, perhaps, a little more elegantly): “My life closed twice before its close,” “Success is counted sweetest / By those who ne’er succeed,” “Tell all the Truth, but tell it slant,” and, my favorite, “Much madness is divinest sense -” Yes, Ralph, Henry, and Emily are surely the three children of profundity; their topic sentences can say more than most novels.

Now, last, but not least, we confront theme. This is perhaps what ties our three subjects together most. Because while Emerson believed in independence, nonconformity, and free thought, Thoreau and Dickinson did too. After all, that’s why they’re categorized under the same title: transcendentalists. Throughout their writings are themes of nature, exploration of the human soul, isolation, and various other semi-romantic ideas. Emerson’s essay with the very title “Nature” discusses his self-discovery through the natural world and his necessary isolation; Thoreau constantly speaks of nature in Walden, where one of the primary ideas of building his cabin was to escape other humans and learn about himself and his universe; Dickinson uses nature in almost every poem (I.E.: “As imperceptibly as grief” and “A narrow Fellow in the Grass”) to evoke her personal reflection and profound ideas. All three were bound by similar beliefs, and the currents in their writings are virtually parallel.

Thoreau and Dickinson were undoubtedly influenced by Emerson. The very style, the very structure, the very mannerisms behind their works are so similar that it cannot be denied. Emerson, however, faltered, in that he did not live by his ideals. He didn’t practice what he preached, but instead left it to those he influenced. They, the very few, took on the roles, abandoning society and government, looking to nature, discovering themselves, and found what they were looking for: madness. They were insane because they did not conform. They were misunderstood in their time, a trait that Emerson described as greatness. They were his disciples, but by no means were they lacking innovation.

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.