Transcendentalists attempt to redefine the world and the human experience in terms of spirituality and interconnectedness with the material natural world. . While the idea of transcendentalism has always remained very fluid as a natural by-product of its primary tenets, individual study of those who lived the life, the most famous of whom is Henry Thoreau, can provide great insight as to what is meant by the word ‘transcendentalism’. Reading through Walden is much like driving through a torrential rain – there are ideas everywhere that must be sought in the spaces between the raindrops. However, examining the life of Henry David Thoreau as it is expressed in Walden reveals many basic transcendentalist tenets as one learns about Thoreau’s concepts of space and possession, his ideas of what is meant by the term slavery and the concept of what it means to be truly successful in life.
One of the first modern conceptions regarding the world that Thoreau questions in his book are the concept of materialism or ownership as it exists in economic terms. Thoreau takes up the question of possession as he illustrates how he began shopping for farms around the Concord area. He recognizes the conventional view of possession as being some form of ownership, “The nearest that I came to actual possession was when I bought the Hollowell place, … but before the owner gave me a deed of it, his wife … changed her mind and wished to keep it” (68). As he discusses the process of handing the farm back over to its owner, he illustrates the transcendental approach to the concept of possession. “But I retained the landscape, and I have since annually carried off what it yielded without a wheelbarrow. I have frequently seen a poet withdraw, having enjoyed the most valuable part of a farm, while the crusty farmer supposed that he had got a few wild apples only” (68).