Transcendentalism vs. Industrialism

April 28, 2009
In the 1800s, the new, rebellious idea of transcendentalism sprang up and enthralled many followers, who were outraged and disgusted with the ideas of industrialism. These followers were commonly authors, such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Louisa May Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Henry W. Longfellow, and more; and they supported transcendentalism wholeheartedly, while arguing against industrialism. The two concepts were vastly different. While transcendentalism encouraged individuality, spirituality, idealism, self-reliance, anti-government, connection to God through nature, justice, and more, industrialism focused on one idea with unity, instruction, regulations, production, and more. The elements of industrialism especially opposed the transcendental authors’ beliefs: anti-government, self-reliance and individuality, and connection to God through nature.
Factories and mills buzzed with labor in the 1830s. There were women and children now allowed to work. They made money. They helped their families. However, transcendentalism had a different premise. Anti-government was a main principle, as Thoreau constantly and relentlessly expressed: “I heartily accept the motto,—‘That government is best which governs least;’ and I should like to see it acted up to more rapidly and systematically. Carried out, it finally amounts to this, which also I believe,—‘That government is best which governs not at all;’” (Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays 1). Unfortunately, the more factories, the increased government regulations and involvement. Transcendentalists saw rules as an obstacle while they opted for new ideas and justice, to their own terms. Government itself was made of laws, and of course they were involved with industrialism because it meant a growing country. With all the austere new policies, workers were as good as slaves, like in Lowell Mills: “…regulations were strict: the girls had to agree to work for at least twelve months in the mill, give two weeks’ notice before quitting, attend church regularly, follow curfews, and demonstrate good moral character. Otherwise, girls were fired and ‘blacklisted.’” (Bartoletti, Kids on Strike 15). With this system, people were not free. Rebecca Harding Davis described this: “Wolfe, while Deborah watched him as a spaniel its master…” (Center for Gifted Education, Threads of Change in 19th Century American Literature 22). Yet transcendentalists were not fooled, for they did not want to be controlled. They did not want to succumb to the regulations of industrialism.
Industrialism posed unity. In factories and mills, everyone worked together. They had to in order to succeed. For transcendentalists, it was a different story. They advocated self-reliance, conveying the phrase, ‘if you want it done right, do it yourself’ like none other. However, as Ralph Waldo Emerson knew, people were so dependant on others, even the transcendentalist: “If a man write a better book, preach a better sermon, or make a better mouse-trap than his neighbor, tho’ he build his house in the woods, the world will make a beaten path to his door” (Ratcliffe, Oxford Dictionary of Thematic Quotes 1). That is what transcendentalists were trying to get away from, for they knew people could achieve more if they did not depend on others. Self-reliance also related to individuality and connecting to the soul, like Thoreau described: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away” (Ratcliffe, Oxford Dictionary of Thematic Quotes 83), as which, with industrialism one could not do. Industrial life was very controlled, as aforementioned, and was on a one-mind-track. It was all about production, with workers focusing on one fixation. The hours of toil were also incredibly firm that a person had no time for them self, to truly discover their desires. Their soul seemed to be put into a small metal box, locked up and not to be opened for a long time. Davis also described the horrors of factories: “…Deborah looked in on a city of fires, that burned hot and fiercely in the night. Fire in every horrible form: pits of flame waving in the wind; liquid metal flames writhing in torturous streams through the sand; wide caldrons filled with boiling fire, over which bent ghastly wretches stirring the strange brewing; and through all, crowds of half-clad men, looking like revengeful ghosts in the red light, hurried, throwing masses of glittering fire. It was like a street in Hell” (Center for Gifted Education, Threads of Change in 19th Century American Literature 21). The true main cause for joining this tyranny was that of desperation and money, like Thoreau pointed out: “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” (Center for Gifted Education, Threads of Change in 19th Century Literature 1). Self-reliance and individuality, in no way, fell under the category of industrialism.
The development caused by the Industrial Revolution was enough to shake a nation, and an idea: transcendentalism. The building of factories and mills was a horror to transcendentalists, for it took away nature. They believed connecting to God through nature was crucial. However, with the development of industrialism itself, connecting became hard. Production wiped out a lot of nature, and the Earth, nor transcendentalists, could not do anything about it, stated Walt Whitman: “The Earth does not argue,/ Is not pathetic, has no arrangements,/ Does not scream, haste, persuade, threaten, promise,/ Makes no discriminations, has no conceivable failures,/ Closes nothing, refuses nothing, shuts none out” (Ratcliffe, Oxford Dictionary of thematic Quotes 119). This quote not only expresses how the Earth had to accept industrialism, but it also conveys that nature is wonderful. Transcendentalists knew that, for they connected to God through nature, knowing the connection was pure. Those who attained jobs in factories and mills, however, could not connect to God through nature. There was no nature around. They hardly had time to make the connection, either. The task was hopeless. With the duty in that state, it was even harder to have faith, and further, to go to Heaven. For as Walt Whitman also expressed, nature was in Heaven: “I believe a leaf of grass is no less that the journey-work of the stars,/ And the pismire is equally perfect, and a grain of sand, and the egg of the wren,/ And the tree toad is a chef-d’oeuvre for the highest,/ And the running blackberry would adorn the parlours of Heaven” (Ratcliffe, Oxford Dictionary of thematic Quotes 263). Industrialism prevented a transcendental attitude.
Anti-government beliefs, self-reliance, and connection to God through nature were all elements that transcendental authors would agree did not correspond with industrialism. Because of regulations, unity, and development for factories, these tasks were impossible. Industrialism was the fall of transcendentalism, and unfortunately, there was nothing the authors could do about it. There was no way industrialism and Transcendentalism could coincide.





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This article has 11 comments. Post your own now!

justinmorgan said...
Mar. 10, 2014 at 1:14 pm
you guys know nothing about transcendentalism
 
sure said...
Sept. 2, 2010 at 11:34 am

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noob tuber said...
Sept. 2, 2010 at 11:32 am
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sum guy in a box replied...
Sept. 2, 2010 at 11:34 am
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sure said...
Sept. 2, 2010 at 11:31 am
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jesus said...
Sept. 2, 2010 at 11:28 am
 i read this every day this is the basis of my life
 
sum guy in a box replied...
Sept. 2, 2010 at 11:32 am
Ya but I'm GOD
 
ragaflaga said...
Jun. 2, 2010 at 10:19 am
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Jun. 2, 2010 at 10:22 am

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ragaflaga replied...
Jun. 2, 2010 at 10:23 am
i read this article and i didnt understand a word  i read me being a 15 year old student and high educated with mutiple degress in science and mathmatics my over sized cranium could not comprhend this
 
wow no life replied...
Sept. 2, 2010 at 11:26 am
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