The Romantic era of literature was an important part of the early 1800s. With a new country emerging, writers wanted to make a name for themselves and establish a uniquely American style. Many new ideas were put into the works of Romantic authors and became ubiquitous themes. As America was growing, the frontier was constantly changing and growing larger. On a daily basis, people were interacting with nature, discovering new plants and animals. This interaction with nature changed the very concept of nature. Romantic authors appreciated nature while others saw it as something to be conquered and profited from. Nature was starting to be seen as a helpful resource rather than a dangerous place to venture. Authors incorporated spiritual connections to nature and its relation to the afterlife. Ultimately, nature plays a large role in many stories of this period and is one of the most important themes of the Romantic Era. Romanticism also demonstrates the theme of how horrible moral behavior can have bad consequences. Some do not understand the seriousness of morality and a guiding force like nature serves them justice.
“The Devil and Tom Walker” by Washington Irving actively displays this theme. The main character, Tom, makes a deal with the devil to become rich. The devil tells Tom where Kidd the Pirate buried his treasure so that he may use it as capital to become a usurer. Tom does many immoral things and even turns on his friends. Tom’s improvident avarice leads to his death when the devil comes to claim his soul. Toms wife suffers a similar fate when her greed entices her to seek out the devil and make a deal. “The Black Cat” by Edgar Allen Poe also contains this ubiquitous Romantic theme. The narrator is a drunk and has frequent bouts of anger. He stabs his cat, Pluto, in the eye and later hangs the cat. When the narrator goes to a bar he, sees another black cat and it follows him. The next day the cat shows up and is missing an eye and is a constant reminder of Pluto and the narrator’s horrible acts. In his basement the narrator kills his wife with an axe and then hides her body in the brick wall.
The police search the whole house and just as they are about to leave they hear a loud shrieking. They break down the wall and find the narrator’s wife and the second black cat. It seems that the narrator was destined to pay for his abuse and poor lifestyle. Both of these stories contain this theme of morality/justice, but they also contain elements of nature. In “The Devil and Tom Walker” nature is where the devil presides and the hidden treasure is buried. Furthermore in “The Black Cat” the cats are part of nature and are used to represent the narrator. While Tom sealed his fate when he made a deal with the devil, nature sought revenge for the sins of the narrator in “The Black Cat”. The theme of nature is displayed well in the poem “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant. “Thanatopsis” is a poem about a man’s connection and relationship with nature. One of the main points of the poem is that nature and human mood are intertwined.
Nature can change human mood and moods can change how nature is viewed. Bryant writes, “She has a voice of gladness, and a smile / And eloquence of beauty, and she glides / Into his darker musings, with a mild / And healing sympathy” (267). Bryant personifies nature in this way and gives it both character and mood. He uses this to show how closely related nature and human emotion are. Transcendentalism is quite evident in this poem because of it nature and spirituality. Later in the poem Bryant writes, “All that breathe / Will share thy destiny. The gay will laugh / When thou art gone, the solemn brood of care / Plod on, and each one as before will chase / His favorite phantom” (269). Bryant implies the fact that all humans have different objectives and purposes in life but these do not matter to nature. When a human dies, they are equalized and their spirit moves on and becomes one with nature. Nature also plays a large role in “A Winter Idyll” from “Snowbound” by John Greenleaf Whittier. In the poem a family prepares for a storm and come together to accomplish several tasks.
They have to get all the animals in the barn and insure that they have some extra food and water. when the storm arrives the family is well prepared and ready. After the storm everything is covered in a thick blanket of snow. Again the family is forced to work together to keep the farm running. Whittier writes, “No cloud above, no earth below / A universe of sky and snow! / The old familiar sights of ours / Took marvelous shapes” (277). Nature caused this great storm and created a large obstacle that the family was forced to overcome. The family was unified by nature both before and after the storm. “The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is based on the fact that nature is everlasting. It is a short poem about a traveler that walks along the beach when headed to a town.
After the traveler leaves the town his footsteps are erased by the rising tide. Longfellow writes, “The little wave, with their soft, white hands, / Efface the footprints in the sands, / And the tide rises, the tide falls” (260).Longfellow uses parallelism in this poem to emphasize that nature is constant. There are four tide changes in a day creating a constant force. Nature uses this to erase things from the past that need not be remembered. The same is true with people; the traveler came into the town and was then forgotten. This can be applied to some extent to a humans life unless they make a significant impact on society. Nature is constant and exists everywhere. It is a part of everyones life and will carry on forever. Spiritual connections with nature were often emphasized and embraced in many Romantic authors writings. Nature is truly one of the most important Romantic themes.