Personalizing Nature and Discovering Meaning : Exploring the Major works of Thoreau, Emerson, Whitman, Melville, and Hawthorne
University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point, College of Professional Studies
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Before their recognition, fame, and influence, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne are men searching for answers, seeking their place amongst the vast and complicated ecosystem that surrounds their minds and bodies. The natural world is breathtaking, poetic, yet harsh and unforgiving. Each man, in his own way, contemplates his place amongst the natural world through his philosophizing, his scientific study, his poetry, or his fiction. In nature, Emerson finds spirituality and peace. His deep immersion in the natural world brings him one step closer to God and creation. Thoreau finds masculinity, isolation, and beauty. He is eager to appear rugged and uses nature to prove his worth in a rough and unforgiving environment. He scolds unnecessary luxuries, and pines for the simplicity of days gone by. In nature, Whitman finds optimism, unity, and raw sexuality. He spans the country in awe of nature, unifying with its inhabitants, and raising questions both philosophical and scientific. Melville finds independence, overwhelming power, and adventure. Through his fiction, he ponders man’s spirit to venture into a natural world filled with strength incomparable to any that humans have encountered before. And through nature, Hawthorne’s characters are given an intellectual life, but once that life has run its course nature turns cold and dark. Hawthorne’s manipulation of nature creates a setting that exudes evil and harbors corruption. His characters attempt to find inspiration through nature, but instead succumb to its daunting intentions and overwhelming scope. As America pushes, head down, full speed towards an industrial revolution, anxiety of the unknown infiltrates the lives of these prominent 19th century American writers. Nature becomes a representation of those anxieties, but, through its multiple representations, nature also becomes an icon of stability. In the major works of Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Herman Melville, and Nathaniel Hawthorne, nature offers a romantic view of the past and masculinity, a reflection of God and creation, the unity of soul and body, power over mankind, and a manipulation of human behavior. Each man creates and maintains his own relationship with nature, and through introspection, exploration, and contemplation they discover what nature has to offer.