In mid-nineteenth century America, a new movement was taking place that was confined to neither religion, nor philosophy, nor literature. Transcendentalism was an intellectual revolution that impacted its followers’ view of existence as they sought enlightenment and a union with a universal soul encompassing man, God, and Nature. Henry David Thoreau, a practical Transcendentalist, became a leader in this movement, dedicating his life and efforts to what he calls becoming awake. Thoreau’s works record both his own journey as he strives to progress to the state of being awake and his instruction to the reader toward this state of enlightenment himself. He uses the term awake to signify a higher level of consciousness in which the individual’s closed-mindedness is replaced with a reconnection with Nature, empathy for his fellow man, intellectual curiosity, and a simplification of daily life - all resulting in a reform of his perception of reality. He encourages the reader to challenge injustices, especially through civil disobedience, whereby an individual peacefully breaks a law that he feels is unjust. Thoreau inspired many people with his act and writings on civil disobedience, including the activists during the Troubles in Northern Ireland.
The Troubles, a period of violent protests and government actions in Northern Ireland, were fueled by revolutionary ideals during the second half of the twentieth century. While some activists used civil disobedience to meet their goals, substituting peaceful protest for violence, the British and provincial government refused to change, thus setting in motion the tragedies and vengeance of the Troubles. Activists protested the Protestant-controlled gerrymandering system which was used to allocate government housing, and which often consigned Catholics to the waiting list, thus contributing to inequality in elections. The Troubles included a phase called the Civil Rights Era, during which peoples used peaceful nonviolent protest, especially marches, believing that when these inequalities ceased, the violence would stop. However, the government did not consent to the demands made, and the unjust systems remained, causing the strife and bloodshed to continue.
Major Works Consulted:
BBC History. BBC, "Northern Ireland: The Troubles." Accessed March 7, 2013. http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/recent/troubles/the_troubles_article_08.shtml.
Magill, Frank N. “Henry David Thoreau.”: Dictionary of World Biography Volume 6 the 19thCentury K-Z. Pasadena, CA: Salem, 1999.
Holland, Jack. Hope Against History: The Course of Conflict in Northern Ireland. New York:
Henry Holt, 1999
Thoreau, Henry David. Civil Disobedience. Lexington: Empire, 2011.
--. Walden. Boston: Beacon, 2004.