Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau were both born in Massachusetts in the early 19th century. Emerson was born in Boston in 1803 and Thoreau was born in Concord in 1817. Emerson attended Harvard and then became a Unitarian minister just like his father had been. Thoreau also attended Harvard but upon graduating, became a teacher and opened up a school. Both Emerson and Thoreau dedicated their careers to pursue transcendentalist philosophy. In comparing Henry David Thoreau's Walden and Ralph Waldo Emerson's Nature, there are parallel beliefs concerning simplicity, material goods and the power of the individual's mind and spirit. Transcendentalism is a philosophy of individualism and self-reliance, however transcendentalism was even more than a philosophy; it was a religion. Nature was its church and it glorified God as its divine being. This essay will compare the similar beliefs and ideas that these two transcendentalists brought forward that tried to shape a youthful America.
Henry David Thoreau tests the transcendentalist ideas about nature by living at Walden Pond, where he discovers that simplicity in physical aspects brings openness to our mind, our soul to its fullest potential, and our imagination to be uplifted to change our lives. These two men believe that nature is what forces us not to depend on others" ideas but to develop our own. Nature is ever changing so we must keep searching for explanations about human life. They feel that nature is the key to knowing all. Thoreau lives at Walden Pond to find the true meaning of life. He wants to experience things for himself. Thoreau's experience at Walden Pond allows himself to escape from the materialistic values of the city life. How can you really know yourself when you are being socially defined by the people and material objects that surround you? Thoreau and Emerson peruse this question by looking inward for answers instead of outward, a thought also pondered by Sigmund Freud at the end of the 19th century.