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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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4. Spirit of Nationalism   

4. Spirit of Nationalism

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Activities: Author Activities

Ralph Waldo Emerson - Author Questions

Back Back to Ralph Waldo Emerson Activities
  1. Comprehension: According to Emerson, what is "nature"?

  2. Comprehension: Examine Christopher Cranch's caricature of the "Transparent Eyeball" featured in the archive. What passage from Nature is Cranch satirizing? What point do you think he is trying to make about Emerson's writing?

  3. Comprehension: Emerson wrote, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do" ("Self-Reliance"). Why should great minds not overvalue consistency? Where in his own work does Emerson appear to be inconsistent?

  4. Context: What kinds of cultural changes does Emerson call for in "The American Scholar"? How does his vision of American virtues and potential compare to Franklin's? To Jefferson's?

  5. Context: Emerson opens Chapter 1 of Nature by pointing out that the stars afford humans insight into "the perpetual presence of the sublime." Review the explanation of the "sublime" featured in the context "The Awful Truth: The Aesthetic of the Sublime," and think about Emerson's relationship to this aesthetic movement. Why does Emerson open his book by invoking the idea of "sublimity"? What effect does he believe visions of sublime natural beauty have on viewers?

  6. Exploration: By the end of his career, Emerson was undeniably a "public intellectual"--that is, his writings and lectures appealed to a general audience and not simply to professors or philosophers. Why do you think Emerson's work was appealing to a wide range of people? Can you think of current American thinkers and writers whom you would characterize as public intellectuals? What role do public intellectuals play in contemporary American society?

  7. Exploration: What relationship does Transcendentalism have to traditional religious beliefs? Would you characterize Transcendentalism as a secular movement? Does it have anything in common with New England Puritanism? With Quaker doctrine? With Deism? (You can refer to the chart provided in Teaching Tips to work through these questions with students.)

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