Modern-Day Transcendentalist Essay

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Final Draft Due:  3:33 p.m., Fri. Feb. 3

This five-paragraph writing assignment will ask you to explore the tenets of 19th-century transcendentalism and then apply, or attempt to apply, those tenets to *your own life.  (See asterisk below for more information about an alternate essay topic.)

Your essay will consist of an introductory paragraph with an attention-getting technique (recall ones on Mr. Westerman’s handout) that narrows down to your thesis statement, three body paragraphs written in SEE Definition/Clarification format, and a concluding paragraph that answers definitively whether you are or are not a modern-day transcendentalist.

As part of your pre-writing, review the tenets of transcendentalism:    individualism, non-conformity, self-reliance, civil disobedience, simplicity, the importance of nature, intuition, and learning by experience.

Now, choose three that you think you are already doing, could easily do, or that you flatly disagree with. These three tenets will become the topics of your three body paragraphs.  You need to use a different tenet for each body paragraph.

Read my sample paragraph in the opposite column.  You might notice that I took some creative liberties with By definition, For example, and As a result. You may too. Those words are just guides for you and the reader. They should not make your paragraph more awkward.  See the printed list (in the folder at the back of the room) for more help with this.

You might also notice that the definition I provided is my own. Based on what we've read and talked about, you can provide your own definitions for the various tenets as well. Yours may not match someone else's exactly. Just be sure to stay true to what you think the original transcendentalists meant.  I wouldn’t ‘overthink’ your definition and/or bother looking up the terms online.  Use your brain and your notes instead.

If you think you are not a modern-day transcendentalist, your paragraphs will look a little different. You will be disagreeing with the concept and actually showing how you live counter to it. If you are not currently practicing a tenet, but think you could do so easily, your paragraph will focus on the ways you could easily incorporate that tenet into your life.

Specificity is completely necessary in this paper. To simply write that you are a non-conformist by “doing your own thing” will not be enough. You need to provide specific examples of real instances in your life when you have shown non-conformity. Be very detailed in all paragraphs.   The use of first-person “I” is completely acceptable and expected in this essay, but avoid phrases such as “I think,” “I feel,” “I believe.”

Rubric for Grading:

Ideas, Organization (adherence to SEE format), Voice, Word Choice, Sentence Fluency, Conventions (15 points each) + Productive Use of In-Class Work Time (10 points) = 100

*Interesting and fun alternative topic for the essay:  Rather than focusing on your own life, argue whether or not Chris McCandless was a modern-day transcendentalist.  All body paragraphs would still be SEE Definition-Clarification and much of what's written above would still apply.  For this topic, however, you WOULD need to include a Works Cited page and would need to cite research/evidence from either "Death of an Innocent" (the article we read in class) or Into the Wild (which you could borrow from my shelf) or both.  Feel free to watch the film on you own, also, if you think it would be helpful.


Note: I am happy to provide you with this sample paragraph, but this is ONLY a sample. Please do not let a close copy of this find its way into your essay.  

I could be considered a modern-day transcendentalist because I practice simplicity with my wardrobe. By Thoreau’s 19th-century definition, simplicity means only having as much as one needs.  I choose to practice simplicity, for example, when I regularly weed my closet of items that no longer fit or are out of fashion.  I like to take those weeded clothing items (sometimes including shoes, accessories, and handbags) to the Goodwill, which I believe is also philanthropic and environmentally-friendly.  Additionally, I learned while I was pregnant that I really don’t need as many clothes as I had previously thought; I just need a few comfortable, versatile items that can be mixed and matched to create lots of different outfits.  I have now tried to apply that principle to my post-maternity garb.  As a result of practicing simplicity in my wardrobe, I now have much more space in my closet to store things like luggage that previously had to be stored elsewhere.