Romanticism was the era of huge expansion and response to certain trends that happened during the Enlightenment period. Throughout this time, literature was considered popular to express many different topics through the society and intellect of this period. There are many different themes that are expressed in the literature written during the time of Romanticism. Although there are multiple themes taken place in this era, the four that I found prominent throughout the writings and poems of this time is the concept of nature, evil, spiritual displacement, and social displacement.
The first theme that stands out in the literature of Romanticism is that of nature or even, in other words, human nature. Emily Dickinson was a poet who wrote a lot about nature, especially about the different seasons in which summer was her favorite. In her poem 130, Dickinson portrays the nature of summer by saying, “These are the days when Birds come back– A very few– a Bird or two– To take a backward look. These are the days when skies resume, The old– old sophistries of June– A blue and gold mistake”, as appreciates the nature around her (pg. 1188). Whitman was another writer who expressed the nature in humans within his poems. In section 21 of his poem called “Song of Myself” he describes, “I am the poet of the woman the same as the man, And I say it is as great to be a woman as to be a man, And I say there is nothing greater than the mother of men”, in which he is stating that each person is great in their own way and that everyone is equal therefore should be treated equally (pg. 1116). These are just two of many writings that express the views of the Romanticism period in the theme of nature and human nature, but not every theme was as positive and enthusiastic as this.
The theme of evil is also shown in this literature period which explains what evil is and how it is dealt with. In “Young Goodman Brown” by Hawthorne, it displays the theme of evil through the devil. The character, Goodman Brown, in the story embarked on a journey and ends up not trusting anyone in the town ever again because he stumbled upon a ceremony of the devil in the forest with all the town’s people, including his wife, and he does not know if it is real or fake when he wakes up the next day and comes home to everything acting normal in the village. This showed the works of evil through the devil distracting us from what is real and causing us to separate ourselves from our friends and loved ones. Evil was not just symbolized as the devil and sin, but also as the government in Elizabeth Stanton’s writing of “Declaration of Sentiments”. She explains, “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of those who suffer from it to refuse allegiance to it, and to insist upon the institution of a new government…” where she is talking about feminine rights and how women are not treated with human rights by the government in which she viewed as destructive (pg. 821). These literatures represent the evil in the world that, during this period of time, people were trying to avoid or demolish, especially the with feminine rights movement.
Spiritual displacement is also another theme that is expressed throughout literature of Romanticism. Separation from religion was another theme found in Dickinson’s poetry such as when she states “Some keep the sabbath going to Church– I keep it, staying at Home– With a Bobolink for a Chorister– And an Orchard, for a Dome” in poem 324 which shows how everyone around her was a regular church goer who indulged themselves deeply into the Puritan religion but she chose not to participate in such spiritual activity and instead considers Nature her spirituality (pg. 1192). Spiritual displacement can also be found in Poe’s work of literature, especially in his poem “Dream Within a Dream”, where he communicates “And I hold within my hand Grains of the golden sand- How few! yet how they creep Through my fingers to the deep, While I weep- while I weep! O God! can I not grasp Them with a tighter clasp?” in which illustrates that the speaker is having a hard time distinguishing reality from fantasy because everything is slipping away. The types of spiritual displacement expressed in these literatures reflect the transcendentalism that was starting to grow in this era as people separated themselves from the norms of religion and reality, but this was not the only type of displacement show throughout literature that was a symbol of this period.
The theme of social displacement is also evident within the writings and poems of this era. Melville shows this theme in his story called “Bartleby” because the main character was a man who kind of separated himself from people. Bartleby pushed the lawyer away with every suggestion that the lawyer made because he was such a depressed man. Emerson and Thoreau also incorporated views of separation from society. Emerson wrote “Self Reliance” in which he argued that self sufficiency is what gives people freedom by stating that “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in you private heart, is true for all men,–that is genius” which shows he believes that people should separate themselves from society to find their true self (pg. 641). Thoreau had the same belief that he expressed in “Civil Disobedience” when he stated, “Know all men by these presents, that I, Henry Thoreau, do not wish to be regarded as a member of any incorporated society which I have not joined” which demonstrates that he believes in people removing themselves from society (pg. 921). These three writers expressed this theme of social displacement throughout their literature that also displayed the expansion of transcendentalism throughout this period of Romanticism.
All of these themes of nature, evil, spiritual displacement, and social displacement are all very prominent during the Romanticism era. The themes of the literature during this time symbolized the movements and views that were expanding around the world and the themes discussed earlier are just some of them. Transcendentalism was one movement that is symbolized in almost every theme that is expressed through the literature of the writers living during this time which was about understanding life not through religion and accepting the world, including the people in it, as it is.
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