Study Help Essay Questions


1. It was important to Emerson that ideas be put into practice in the real world. Consider some contemporary controversial issue and examine it as you think Emerson would. Examples of such an issue might be capital punishment, human rights, environmentalism, feminism, or cultural pluralism. Quote from Emerson's writings and explain how his principles would be applied to the issue.

2. Emerson refers to many historical thinkers in his writing. Choose three or four names cited in one of his essays. Look up discussions of these people's ideas and show how they do or do not relate to the ideas Emerson connects them with.

3. Find or construct a cover illustration for one of Emerson's essays. Write a short essay explaining how your illustration conveys his message from the essay you chose.

4. Consider the personal application of Emerson's theories. Relate an incident in your life that can be explained according to his principles.

5. Idealism is a persistent thread in American thought and life. Discuss ideas embodied in popular culture — song, television drama, film — that exemplify Emerson's ideas. Quote from both texts, Emerson's writings and the modern work you chose.

6. Other traditions of spiritual and idealistic thinking have some parallels with American transcendentalism. From your reading and study of Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism, or other idealistic traditions, make a comparison of two or three principles of the classical tradition and Emerson's thought.

7. Imagine that Emerson is on a television talk show with a contemporary political, educational, or religious figure. Write a dialogue between them on a topic, such as affirmative action, free public education, environmentalism, or welfare rights. Use quotations and paraphrases from Emerson's writings.

8. Imagine that Emerson is planning to hire you to work for him. What would you put in your resume to convince him that you are a suitable candidate for employment? Write an imaginary resume

9. Study the writings of one of Emerson's close contemporaries — for example, the poems of Walt Whitman. Write a compare/contrast essay showing both similarities and differences between Emerson and the contemporary whom you chose.

10. Look up the word "transcendental" in a standard dictionary. How does Emerson's conception of the word differ from this definition or the definition you had previously formed in your own mind?

11. Emerson has much to say about what makes good literature. Select a poem of your choice and analyze it according to Emerson's principles.

12. Frederick Douglass was an important abolitionist and contemporary of Emerson. Read Douglass' Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass and decide if it expresses Emersonian principles. Explain the reasons for your decision.