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In 19th century America, Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “The American Scholar” finds a satisfying manifestation in Frederick Douglass’ autobiographical Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave, Written by Himself. A careful examination reveals Douglass to be the epitome of Emerson’s “Man Thinking,” a distinction which allows Douglass to escape slavery in a thoroughly transcendental way. In “The American Scholar,” Emerson expounds upon the deficits in the American education system, in particular, passive knowledge consumption. In an attempt to correct this deficit, Emerson enumerates the qualifications necessary to achieve the pinnacle of American scholarship, which he calls “Man Thinking.” Emerson claims that a man must be in touch with nature, he must explore the past through books, he must activate his soul, and he must use his new knowledge to take action and produce change. Douglass reaches each of the essential phases and meets all necessary requirements for Emerson’s conceptualization. As a slave, often commodified and rendered as livestock, he can be no closer to nature. Reading the written orations of the past, Douglass is spurred into action to change his slave status. His soul is fundamentally active. It is this combination of factors which allows Douglass to transcend slavery and embody, ironically, the zenith of white transcendental intellectualism.


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  • Alternative title
    • Frederick Douglass and the ‘Transcendence’ from Slavery

  • Journal title
    • Papers & Publications

  • Volume
    • 7

  • Issue
    • 1

  • Date submitted

    19 July 2022

  • Keywords
  • Additional information
    • Acknowledgements:

      I would like to acknowledge Dr. Jürgen Grandt for his inspiration in writing this essay, Dr. Leigh Dillard for her support in presenting it, and the staff at UNG-Gainesville’s Writing Center for never refusing to read it.

      Author Biography:

      Mastering her procrastination and dominating her indecisiveness, Emmy Dixon finally graduated Magna Cum Laude from the University of North Georgia with a BA in English literature and a minor in psychology. Her passion is for American writing from the Romantics to the Modernists, especially Melville and Hemingway. She has a special interest in slave narratives written by women and has recently developed an appreciation for Emily Dickinson and John Milton. While a student at UNG, she was published in UNG’s literary journal, the Chestatee Review, each of the six years of her attendance; had two plays produced by Onion Man Productions; and presented an award-winning essay at the Sigma Tau Delta International Convention. Currently, she is a professional writing tutor, which she loves with all her heart. Her future academic goals include an MA in Southern Literature, followed by a PhD in American Literature. She aspires to be a professor one day, teaching composition at a small college in a small Southern town, where she will restore a small home. She’ll spend her free time reading big books and sipping sweet tea, while swaying slowly in her front porch swing. But let’s be real. She’ll probably be stuck in a fishbowl somewhere with 500 Comp 1 essays, and her hottest date will be Mr. Coffee. Either way, as long as she gets to read, research, write, and repeat, it’s all poetry.

      Graduation Date:

      May 2016