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Online Essay Compare and Contrast Thoreau and Emerson


There exist many philosophies by which many people live their lives. Emerson and Thoreau are perfect example of this. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were both nineteenth century writers who express a philosophy of life based on our inner self. I will examine various philosophies as they relate to Emerson and Thoreau’s attitude toward the man’s plight toward existence and independence. Both authors share same transcendentalism views gives them various similarities in their writing to the point their differences are hard to find.


Both authors are seeking the understanding of their reader. Thoreau’s argument calls for less government and more independence while Emerson’s consistence need for more self-reliance and independence from others. The tone of both essays is very direct about what they are trying to convey. The hard part comes when the reader begins to digest the understanding of what they are saying. A reader has to first understand the Emerson and Thoreau’s transcendental views toward life. Transcendentalism was an intellectual movement that stressed intuition, individuality, and self-reliance. These views are clearly express in both writings. Gaining one’s own independence is a common message Emerson and Thoreau discussed in their writings. Even though, the essays are different in their subject matter their message is still convey of gaining one’s own independence in some way. Thoreau’s objection is to the government. In the essay “Resistance to Civil Government” it is quite apparent Thoreau dislike for the government. Thoreau contends that men have lost the free will to make individual decisions regarding war, slavery, and domestic issues because government imposes on its citizens only in its own self interests. Thoreau’s quest seems to be having freedom from the civil government while Emerson’s quest is just having the freedom to be oneself. Emerson emphasizes over and over again the order in which man needs to gain ones own independence. Emerson believed in a person forming his or her own opinions and beliefs. Each author shares a common belief in God being the higher authority. Even though religion played a minor role in the writings of Emerson and Thoreau the authors clearly give light on the influence of religion had on their life. Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government” believes that moral law is more important than civil law. Thoreau view God as the higher authority over government. In “Self-Reliance,” Emerson express the idea that the individual should be completely reliant on God. These authors were not trying to spread religious doctrine; naturalism was clearly the forerunner when it came to these two authors expressing their views on life. I believed Emerson saw nature as reflection of God while Thoreau saw nature as itself. The influence of when the authors’ essays were created gives the differences in the way the authors view things at the time. Thoreau had the influence of the Mexican-American War and slavery. Both issues have a prominent part in Thoreau’s writing.


I believed both authors had respect for nature and believed in having simple way of life. I feel both authors are very influential writers. Emerson and Thoreau wrote from the heart. They did not hold back on sharing the views of life with the world. The reader did not have to agree with what they were saying but in the end of each essay the writer surely made you think about life from a different perceptive. I feel both essays “Self-Reliance” and “Resistance to Civil Government” has something that can be taken away as a lesson for life.


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