Self Reliance and Other Essays
Healing Societal Issues Through Transcendentalism
In the late eighteenth century, romanticism swept through Europe and eventually the rest of the world, which ultimately played a key factor in influencing the philosophical movement known as transcendentalism that was created in the United States. Transcendentalism brought numerous new ideas and beliefs to the world that were extremely significant in helping men and women of all races stand up for their rights and freedom. All throughout history and even to this day, we see examples of transcendentalist beliefs used to battle the societal issues of the time.
Many societies in the past and modern day contain individuals that respond to the issues of the time by harnessing three major transcendentalist virtues such as individualism, idealism, and the divinity of nature which all cast key parts in the individual’s role. Individualism in transcendentalism is the belief that oneself is most successful when they are self-reliant and independent from any institution within society such as organized religion, government, and any other administration that would cause that person to not freely think for themselves.
Ralph Waldo Emerson, author of Self Reliance,was a major leader of the American transcendentalist movement. Like many others, Emerson believed that if a man did not independently think, then his mind would be poisoned because his thoughts would not be his own values and beliefs. People need to think for themselves instead of being confined by the rules of society set up by conformists. Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would after immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind (Emerson 59). Emerson uses a biblical reference in his essay Self Reliance so the reader can relate to the story and truly understand what he is trying to convey. The immortal palms are in reference to when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Jesus was a man who was beloved and celebrated, however, he was also despised because his thoughts and ideas were different from the ones everyone else shared. People who want to gather immortal palms or do something that is worthy of rejoicing cannot be restrained by what is good and bad according to society.
To succeed you have to play off of your own intuition and follow what you think is right, even if it means going against authority or power. Individualism is an extremely important aspect in the role of the individual in a society that responds to the issues of the time. Without Individualism we lose our unique identities, thoughts, opinions, beliefs, and virtues, therefore it would be impossible for an individual to take the role of addressing the issues in society because there is a lack of personal conscience. Before the romanticism period, there was a movement called the age of reason that took place between 1750 and 1800. This was a period of exploration and pursuit of knowledge however society was extremely strict and dull. At the beginning of the transcendentalism movement, the leaders hoped to stop these old attitudes towards life and make society enjoyable and full of wonder and awe. This was accomplished through idealism. In transcendentalism, idealism is the emphasis on creative thinking, raising questions, and innovation. Idealism was especially important in pre-Civil War America because African Americans and women were denied the same rights as white men and a new culture of raising questions allowed people to finally start asking why can’t everyone be equal?. Sojourner Truth was an African American abolitionist and a women’s rights activist who fully embraced idealism because she created her own ideas which she believed in and wanted to fight for.
Truth spoke about her opinions and ideas in her speech Ain’t I A Woman, which took place on May 29, 1851, at a Women’s Rights Convention in Akron, Ohio. If my cup won’t hold but a pint, and yours holds a quart, wouldn’t you be mean not to let me have my little half-measure full? (Truth 99). During this time period, white men owned everything, therefore, Sojourner Truth wanted to raise questions. If white men have all the control in life and women barely have any opportunity, is it not cruel to constantly deny this group of people rights and freedom? By asking this, Truth appeals to ethos ultimately bringing her closer to the audience and building up her character and self-virtue. Then that little man in black there, he says women can’t have as much rights as men, ’cause Christ wasn’t a woman! Where did your Christ come from? Where did your Christ come from? From God and a woman! Man had nothing to do with Him. (Truth 99) Sojourner Truth knows that most of her audience follows Christianity. By bringing up Mary, the mother of God, she appeals to logos by showing people in the audience a woman who can be trusted in a position of power. Raising questions such as Truth did plants the seed of doubt towards societal norms in listeners minds, which creates more questions to be asked and support towards her cause. Idealism consistently allows people to challenge things that they don’t think are right and just.
An individual needs to be able to ask questions and think creatively to address problems in society. Without Idealism, issues in our world would never be resolved because no one would consider asking if something was right or wrong which is why idealism is an extremely important aspect in an individual’s role in responding to issues in society. Transcendentalists did not believe in organized religion because it does not allow individuals to freely think due to the set of rules, ideas, and beliefs put in place by others. However people of transcendentalism thrived for extremely spiritual lives and believed that it was of the utmost importance to connect with nature because it is sacred. The divinity of nature for transcendentalists means that human beings should never interfere or try to control nature, their fate, or the universe and rather leave it be and let divine nature take its course as God or the Divine intended it. All human beings, male and female, were created equally in the eyes of the divine. When people disobey this, acting in an arrogant or egoistic way and turn to corruption or greed, they are trying to control nature and change fundamentals that they have no control over which breaks the relationship between nature and the soul. In Chief Seathl’s letter to The President of The United States, there are strong representations of corruption and greed in one group, the white men, while the Native Americans have grand amounts of respect for the divinity of nature.
“The President in Washington sends word that he wishes to buy our land. But how can you buy or sell the sky? The land? The idea is strange to us. If we do not own the freshness of the air and the sparkle of the water, how can you sell them? Every part of this earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people. (Seathl 75) Chief Seathl makes it understood that his people have extreme gratitude for nature’s beauty and sacredness. His detail when describing each aspect of the land they have come to know shows that he and his people take the divinity of nature very seriously while the Americans depict gluttony. In 1852 the United States was heavily focused on westward expansion ultimately driving Native American tribes out of the land they were living on. The Americans wanted to buy the land from the natives and this baffled many of the tribes because, in their the eyes, the land was not something they could just buy. They believed that we are guests on this earth and it is not our right to be here, it is a privilege and we need to be respectful of nature, which all human beings are apart of. All things are connected. Whatever befalls earth befalls the sons of the earth (Seathl 75). At the time, America is creating all this violence and corrupting its population through greedy and egotistical ways.
Chief Seathl understood that his people who carry out the values of divine nature were far outnumbered so he includes this warning that whatever hurts the earth will one day hurt man. According to transcendentalist values, nature is sacred and in order for human beings to live a successful and happy life, one must have a strong connection towards nature which allows that person to understand that everything in life is connected and happens for a reason. When people decide to take different paths in life and break this code, corruption and violence rise which creates issues within society. The divinity of nature is not just a key virtue specific to transcendentalism. The first representation of divine nature takes place in the Holy Bible. In Peter’s second epistle, he tells the reader that the opposite of divine nature is corruption in the world (2 Peter 1:4). Peter says that if we take part in divine nature then God’s promises, also known as the covenants between God and his people, will be true. These promises are peace among everyone and eternal life. Like Chief Seathl and Peter the Apostle, individuals need to continue the job of spreading the word and living true to the divinity of nature to be able to resolve and respond to issues in the world.
As said in the Bible, if all men and women take part in divine nature, peace in the world can thrive which is why this is such an important aspect that supports an individual’s role towards responding to issues of the time. There have been individuals in the past and in the present have had great success in upholding the role of responding to issues within society. Many of these individuals portray characteristics that are in line with transcendentalism. By knowing the importance of a person’s ability to think independently and challenge social norms, while also understanding how to properly connect with nature and treat the environment around them, an individual’s job in addressing and resolving issues within society become more transparent. Embracing the three major transcendentalist virtues which are individualism, idealism and the divinity of nature allow each and every one of us the opportunity to one day become that individual.
Self-Reliance Of Ralph Waldo Emerson
Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind Emerson was a widely known man who established himself as an intellectual and philosophical writer who advocated for social reforms. He was a spokesman who believed that the only thing keeping a person from reaching their full potential was a distorted perception of reality and longing to conform with society’s standards. By using intellectual diction to strongly convey his argument to the people, Emerson effectively demonstrates an inimical environment in hopes that people will resist conformity and rely upon themselves.
Emerson uses subtle devices in order to display to the people as a whole, that they should trust their own intuition and reject the standards built up by society. In doing so, Emerson is able to express his true feelings. At the end of the day you are your own person and by being anyone but yourself is only going to hold you back from success in the future. In the metaphor, envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse. Emerson obligates society to recognize that every individual person is unique. By envying someone else’s qualities it causes the downfall of your self destruction.
Consequently, the quality of being ignorant enables the mind to lack knowledge and destroys the exhilaration and meaning to your life. In Self Reliance Emerson utilizes word choice to his advantage. He alludes to the fact that, society is a joint-stock company. This quote indicates how people are brought together by different aspects of life like traditions or customs. In a place like this, society has the ability to suppress individuality due to a fear of change. Society can be quick to criticize and uses this instilled fear to enslave the people to its expectations. By having individualism, it brings about form of strength that enables people to think on their own. Part of being self reliant is not allowing society to define you but instead have the ability to create change and opportunity. This quality separates a person from the vast majority of people who rely on the satisfaction of others.
Throughout the essay, Emerson manages to reinforce his main points by providing structure and organization through parallelism. This allows his ideas to become even more memorable. Emerson implies that self reliance not only enables people to rely upon themselves but when used it’s put into action, it can change every aspect of society in relation to, their religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; their association; in their property; in their speculative views. This paradox represents the real world. People want others to accept them, so they change in order to conform to other people’s’ viewpoints. How can people expect to become a better version of themselves if they are constantly hiding behind their own shadow? Emerson forces us to advocate for ourselves and develop our own culture in which we can provide a foundation of efficiency and productivity in every aspect of our daily lives. In conclusion, Ralph Waldo Emerson emphasizes the importance of individuality and the impact it can create on the world around you. He persuades the reader to establish their own path and trust their intuition. His ability to convey proper word choice allows the reader to discover a deeper meaning of the text and realize that non-conformity is a form of strength that only you have the power to control.
Understanding Of Emerson's Self Reliance
How important is self reliance to me and my future? In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self Reliance, he wrote about the importance of self reliance and how it’s crucial to the way that we live our lives. In the essay Self Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson used diction, to show that society in bad for individuals. He wants the reader to discrete from the norms and pursue self reliance.
One of the most heard quotes of Emerson’s writing is one that can pertain and relate to the lives of many including myself. Emerson stated that Imitation is suicide(pg.369). He is trying to connect to the reader and make them understand that to imitate someone is to kill oneself. I comply with the meaning of this quote, not because of what it means to the story but to how it has occured to me before. I used to really want to be like some kids at my school. I would start to change my wardrobe to fit in. Slowly but surely it started to kill my sense of uniqueness and adequacy. I want to reach my fullest potential in life, and I can’t do that while imitating others. I have started to venture away from the idea that I need to be like everyone else to have or feel a sense of purpose. Not only does imitation not create uniqueness,but it also kills the originality of the person. Emerson propelled the thought of being your true self; and that your rare characteristics that imitation would ruin towards the reader.
Another one of the recurring themes that Emerson used is the need for each individual to avoid conformity and false solidity, and follow their own beliefs and ideas. The quote Self reliance is its aversion(Emerson 369). portrays the recurring theme that Emerson used. Society often times want individuals to follow the mainstream, to be consistent with the flow. Growing up, I would be nudged by society to go to school, go to college, get a job, retire, and pass away. You see, we live, expecting our lives to follow the norms of tradition. We are afraid to step outside of those boundaries. I want to live my life the way I want it to be. I won’t accustom my lifestyle to be generic in anyway. I will do this by having self reliance instead of relying on society to make my choices for me. When I read the quote by Emerson is sparked that belief that I was going to be my own individual. From now on I will start to evert from society,and only dedicate myself to achieving greatness in the form that I want it. Why can’t more people have the realization that its okay to have self reliance, it’s okay to be lone.
Having different perspectives towards life and ideas is what makes things become unusual. But misunderstanding others peoples ways doesn’t mean that they are wrong. Viewing with different perspectives is what makes greatness, it’s what drives innovation. To be great is to be misunderstood (Emerson 369). If every concept, every idea or belief is understood then how will there be greatness. In my current daily life, I strive to misunderstand people. It then opens my eyes to the endless perspectives that can be seen and achieved. They are a great person because they differ from others. Over time I have learned how to think for myself and if i’m misunderstood then I hope people will understand for what reason. I let my thoughts run free, even contradict each other. Genius lies in the pure freedom of the mind, and it is restrictive to expect yourself to be the same tomorrow as you are today.
Impossibility of Self-Reliance
Transcendentalism is the way of thought that society corrupts the individual and to escape this evil, corrupting society, man must live off the land and be self-reliant in nature. In the investigative report, Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer, Chris McCandless chooses to live as Thoreau did during Walden, engulfed in nature, with little outside influence, living off the land like the natives and being self-reliant. To some, this way of living is appealing as it offers unlimited freedom at the expense of not being in society, however, this should not be the way to live. The threat of death is always looming, because absolute self-reliance is impossible and nature is truly unpredictable..
The one of the main ideals of transcendentalism, is to be self-reliant. Living off the land and in nature, like Thoreau or Chris did, is indeed an act of self-reliance. However, this self-reliance while living in nature is composed of the desperation to kill, eat, and most of all, survive. This is represented by Chris’s journal, nearly every single day, Chris wrote about what he ate, rather than exploring the inner country of his soul. (183). Chris set out with the idea to find and let his true self-reliant identity shine while he escapes the society that limited his freedom, however as his journey progressed, Chris’s priorities changed. His main priority was to find something that provided him with enough to survive everyday, which still happens to be living off nature, however even though he was surviving, living off nature, and being self-reliant, his mentality weakened over his journey. Eventually, he longed to be back in the evil, corrupt society, the exact same community that he desperately wanted to get away from. Man is truly at nature’s disposal. Nature is invincible and unpredictable, the beauty of nature attracts people and yet this beautiful nature can’t be controlled by man. People who venture out into nature are at nature’s will, because controlling nature is impossible.
Both Thoreau and Chris aren’t truly living by the ideals of transcendentalism, they both are still connected to society. In Thoreau’s Walden, Thoreau explains how his life at the Walden Pond is actually very close to society: I was seated by the shore of a small pond, about a mile and a half south of the village of Concord.(Walden, II). Thoreau, being a ‘transcendentalist’, lives in nature, ‘away’ from society, however he never really escapes society, thus not making him a true transcendentalist. Again, one of the main ideas of transcendentalism is to escape the corrupt society that takes away people’s freedoms, but he stays so close to a populated village. Thoreau could have explored for miles and miles and truly lived by the ideals of transcendentalism, and yet didn’t. Men can’t escape society. In someway society had such an effect on Thoreau, that he had the desire to be near not one, but two villages. Thoreau only lives about a thirty minute walk away from the village of Concord. Chris, just like Thoreau, had the desire to get himself back into civilization. Krakauer infers, … McCandless decided to return to civilization. and get himself back into the world of men and women, where he could could chug a beer, talk philosophy, enthrall strangers with the tales of what he’d done.(168). Men who have lived in a society can never escape its influences and values. Living in nature and being self-reliant requires man to be alone and accompanied by only himself. This way of living is unrealistic since men naturally want to stray from situations that are too uncomfortable or tough.
Being lonely for any amount of time, no matter what, will cause man to have the desire to be back in a society surrounded by people. So the idea of transcendentalism is not the way one should wish to live by and is impossible to truly live by. Eventually, the goal of rebelling against a corrupt society by escaping and living off nature, only results in the desperation to survive by any means necessary. Essentially, the mental attitude about society changes and a society that once limits one’s freedoms and was the corrupt enemy, now becomes an appealing place to live, a safe-haven. It is truly impossible to properly live by the ideals of transcendentalism, as self-reliance eventually turns into desperation, and the evil, corrupt society transforms into an appealing utopia.
Comparison Of Conformism And Self-Reliance
The ideology of conformity has been a prominent theme in American culture throughout history. Through the natural development of society, we are taught to live under the norms that are created by those in power. In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s argument within Self-Reliance, he claims that conformity is a parasite to society and that the only way growth can truly be accomplished is through self-actualization; pushing beyond the boundaries that society has placed around us, exploring the outskirts where individualism lives.
Although Emerson’s argument has evolved alongside time, as he emphasized how detrimental the church’s influence is upon society and the concept of self-reliance, the central theme of nonconformity of those within a society remains very much relevant today, as seen in different aspects of our modern society.
Emerson believes that those within a society naturally adjust to the norms that those in power set in place for their distinct time period. Those norms help the powerful remain in power, hypnotizing the masses in order to control them, controlling prominent aspects of society’s life, such as morality, thoughts and actions. As Emerson argues, society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater, (lines 24-25) and as a result, self reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs. (lines 26-27) Precisely because of the system that the institutions that control society have set into place, individuals are taught that thinking differently than those around them and those major institutional powers is dangerous, abnormal even. For instance, before gay marriage was legalized, people viewed it as a violation of the norm, and some still do. Two of the most powerful institutions that control our society such as religion and government stated that gay marriage was not allowed, making people conform to the view of a nuclear family, in which families and marriage was only created by a man and a woman. The prohibition against gay marriage made people restrain who they truly were, not being able to form a union with someone they really cared for. This ideology penetrates conformism within a society, in which they cannot see beyond the box they have been placed in or beyond the norms that those in power have put in the box for them to wear, acting as a barrier between society and who they really are. Just like any other situation, the ban on gay marriage exalted inequality and discrimination within American society today and exemplifies how powerful institutions make people conform into boxes that may not imply for them, caging them from living in authenticity. This is why it is essential for those within society to not be hindered by the name of goodness, but explore if it be goodness, (line 29) exploring the legitimacy of those you are confiding in and not just believing in something because those around you said to do so.
A constant theme Emerson tries to penetrate within Self Reliance is that self actualization can only be accomplished in the face of adversity and with deep thought, being willing to question everything. It is true that because of social normalities, we but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. (lines 8-9) It is a scary reality to acknowledge that we are all different, derivative of different experiences and each and every single one of us must stand in our own truth. As Emerson better puts it, it is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitudes to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. (lines 35-37) It is only through nonconformity that you can find yourself, be honest with yourself. Moreover, those with authority, want everyone to be the same, easier to control large groups of people if they all think similarly, but when people become idiomatic to their communities, it threatens the current system set into place. Like the domino effect, it only takes one person and their courage to wake up the rest and to start a movement, create change, which threatens their power. For example, Christine Blasey Ford stepped forward about how Judge Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her. With her courage, she was able to set back Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination and inspire many other women to be fearless and tell their stories. Consequently, this was a big moment within the #metoo movement, feminist movement, and human rights campaign. Additionally, to truly grow as a person, you must be loyal to the values that are important to you, but to find those values, you must critically think. Do not be scared of backlash that society might give you, as whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. (line 28) In the end, trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. (line 14) All that will matter is that you lived in authenticy, unapologetically standing in the sun of your own truth.
Change, as argued by Emerson, can only occur when a brave individual follows his heart and steps out of those boundaries, breaking barriers and walking past them, giving others an opportunity to follow them. Emerson explains how great men have followed their hearts and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their hearts, working through their hearts, predominating in all their being. (lines 16-18) Many people are scared of being who they truly are because many times, if you don’t fit within the box that has been presented to you, you are exiled and seen as an enigma; that is exactly why people try to fit in those boxes, conforming to who others want them to be, not living as who they truly are. People are afraid because that means they will not make connections with others, being misunderstood for being different. Despite this, to be great is to be misunderstood. (lines 53-54) As highlighted throughout history, all the names in our textbooks were misunderstood, different than any other, for Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. (lines 52-53) Evidently, all those who inspire us did not conform to the standards that others developed for them to follow, yet we seem to do the exact opposite of what they did. For example, people like Malala Yousafzai, who fought against Taliban rule for the right of education for women, persisting through conflict lead to real change for her people in Pakistan. She chose to nonconform and greatness arrived from her dedication. To be great is to be who you are destined to be and not let others tell you who you are.
Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that conforming to the standards of others would make society a debacle. Through his argument in his piece Self-Reliance, he exemplifies that the only possible way that society could prosper is if everyone learned how to be their own individual instead of trusting the powerful in telling them what their every action and thought be. Although we live in a different, more modern society now, the theme of his piece is still prevalent in society today, as people still fall under the trap of the rich and powerful. People still must be unafraid to question those in authority, helping them find themselves. As Emerson said himself, to be great is to be misunderstood.
Idea Of Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson
Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most prominent essays in American history. Emerson has influenced and inspired many individuals through his notable points such as that one should not toss aside our instincts but rather others judgment in order to live properly. In Emerson’s essay Self Reliance he expresses that individuals need to focus on themselves, listen to their own voice, and follow their own path rather than others in order to achieve one’s fullest potential.
In a society where change is always advocated and others’ opinions are always voiced, one needs to take some time to step back and reflect on who they are and what they care about. Emerson expresses in his Self Reliance essay that It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. Emerson here is telling us to live after our opinion rather than others’ opinions. We need to accept ourselves; otherwise, we will get changed by what society wants us to be and not be our true selves. Unfortunately, there is this negative stigma on being alone because of many factors like social media. There is this need to always inform others on what is going on with one’s life, and if one does not then there is this sense of feeling like they are missing out on something, feeling left out, or the thought that others are going to think of them negatively, however, that is not what is important for oneself. Emerson states in his essay What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think (Emerson). Taking some time to be alone and consider what needs to be accomplished for oneself, through focusing and figuring out what one can potentially be, ultimately overrides what others think.
Anyone can listen to others’ opinions but that will not do any good for one’s self. Emerson voices in his essay that Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles (Emerson). Emerson is conveying that one will not be happy doing something against one’s morals, strongly expressing to individuals to take after their own inner voices as opposed to letting themselves to be pressured and influenced by others. Jack Turner, an Assistant Professor of Political Science at University of Washington, argues, that if everyone followed [Emerson], we would be a society of disconnected and narcissistic individuals (Emerson, Slavery, and Citizenship) , however, this is not true due to the fact that being self-reliant and being self-centered are two different things. Self-reliance according to Merriam Webster is not needing help or support from other people while being self-centered is caring only about yourself; being self-absorbed. Being self-reliant means one depends on just themselves rather than others because they know they can accomplish the task. It is a great quality to have because it shows one can take care of oneself which will help many in the future, while being self-centered is being able to only think about oneself and does not really care about others. However, this does not mean that an individual cannot help others. James H. Read, a Professor of Political Science with the College of Saint Benedict conveys Self-reliant individuals recognize the call of justice, and the obligation to fulfill duties toward others, but do so in a new and unprecedented way: not after the customs of others, but as their own inward perception of truth prescribes (The Limits of Self-Reliance) stating that a self-reliant individual will do their responsibilities but in a way that has not been done before and feels right. By doing so does not make one selfish, as declining society’s view because it does not sit well with what one believes in shows individuality rather than conforming.
Emerson’s whole objective through his Self Reliance essay was to point out that one should find their personal identity. He states in his essay Your conformity explains nothing. Act singly, and what you have already done singly will justify you now (Emerson). It is simple to do what society wants one to do, but what society wants one to do does not make who one is. Jack Turner states in an article Complicity, finally, is often a form of conformity: we fail to question prevailing political, social, and economic arrangements because we fear social ostracism ( Self-Reliance and Complicity). To be a true individual to oneself, one should not accept societies definition of what wrong and right is but rather find out what wrong and right means to oneself. Accepting societies rules because of fear of being treated differently and exclusion just makes more followers of society, essentially, leading to no individuality due to everyone having the same mindset. To achieve personal growth one has to chose to ignore all the doubt from not only others opinions but also from oneself and follow what one believes and feels right.
In conclusion, it is easy to be caught up in others’ opinions and then suddenly feel like one needs to change themselves because their differences do not match up with other individuals. Learning to be different and independent is just the first step to being who one truly is and to grow up successfully. Many individuals fail to realize that just because one is different from others does not mean that individual needs to change nor does that make them selfish for not wanting to do so.
Who Is Ralph Waldo Emerson?
What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think(Ralph Waldo Emerson). Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American philosopher and spokesman for the American Transcendentalists. The Transcendentalists movement consists of a group of New England romantic writers, who believed that intuition was the means to truth.
In other words, to be true to yourself. In 1841, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay, Self-Reliance, to introduce the American Transcendentalists. In his essay to the public regarding the Transcendentalists movement, Ralph Waldo Emerson is attempting to express the idea of being your own person instead of just copying others.
In the beginning of his essay, Emmerson is expressing how one should value their true self instead of being someone they are not. To demonstrates, he uses various analogies to reveal, There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him till.. (Emerson). By comparing envy to ignorance, Emerson feels that those who have desire and jealousy to be someone else are ignorant to that person’s problems. Therefore, they should not want to be someone else, for no one is perfect and have their own issues. He views imitation as suicide because imitating someone would mean killing your own voice, ideas, and creativity. Emmerson continues by stating that the wide universe is filled with people imitating and relying on others, and people should use what they are given to build their own originality. Emerson’s use of analogy and repetition is to encourage readers to appreciate their true self and to feel confidence or powerful within themselves,
Later in his essay, Emerson writes in a candid tone to let readers know that not everyone would be accepting to their true self. For instance, using descriptive language, he divulges:
For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure. And therefore a man must know how to estimate a sour face. The bystanders look askance on him in the public street or in the friend’s parlour. If this aversation had its origin in contempt and resistance like his own, he might well go home with a sad countenance; but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs. (Emmerson)
Emerson uses the word displeasure to show readers that the world will and will always judge those who decide to expose their true self instead of changing themselves in order to fit in with society. He then states that people should not let a sour face change who they really are. Emmerson expresses that these judgmental people are everywhere even among their own friends. Throughout the essay, Emerson uses descriptive language to help readers understand that people will keep criticizing them until they change to fit society’s standards. He uses descriptive words hoping readers will continue to take what the universe gave them to mold themselves into the person who they really are because at the end of the day the judgmental stares fade away into nothing.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, Self-Reliance, influences readers by advising them to find self-indepence instead of obeying social expectations. He uses analogies, descriptive language, and repetition to teach the importance of self reliance and the challenging obstacles that come with. Emerson believes that conformity kills individualism and encourages readers to avoid conformity in order to reach self confidence. Also, Emmerson desires every person to self confident and different. His essay will forever continue to affect readers by giving them not only hope, but the confidence to express themselves truly.
Depiction Of Self-Reliance Responses
- In the piece, Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson makes various references and descriptions of what genius is, stating …what he has said or done otherwise…shall give him no peace.in the attempt, his genius deserts him. (Emerson 20). The implied meaning given to the reader by Emerson is that genius amongst men, rather than only having certain thoughts, is when a man, no matter his thoughts, is able to truly and fully believe that those thoughts are the truth, and the only truth for oneself.
- In the text, Emerson states that he believes that in every person’s life, they come across the conviction that, envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide, (Emerson 20). And in this statement, Emerson tackles the many ideas that he himself presents himself throughout his essay of self-reliance. The first of which being that individuals should stay individual, that is, that a person should forge onward through their own path in life, and as a result, will be much better off than someone who did not do so. With this in mind, the statement refers to Emerson’s ideas of individualism, and an individual who breaks away from social conformity in our society, and for Emerson, the ignorance and social conformity hinted at in his statement is what he is against. The idea that an individual who has true knowledge is one who stick to his own sense of identity, and remaining an individual apart from the socially conforming herd that is society, and as a result, achieving happiness, rather than lying under the shadows of others where one then suffers a slow death of their identity.
- Throughout the text, Emerson makes notes various comparisons between nonconformists, and the rest of society, both of which he holds different values towards in respect to his own perspective. Regarding the values Emerson holds for nonconformists in society, Emerson values the fact that, in society, nonconformists are truly individuals, creators who carve out their own path and views, and from there, reach their own personal truth of what they believe is right. Likewise, from Emerson’s values about nonconformists, the values he has of society are implicitly derived from those same values, that, …For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure… (Emerson 24). Emerson values of society are asserted that in society as a whole, nonconformity is viewed as a threat to their lie of stability, that society lies quaking in fear towards the uncertainty of reality, and as such, must adopt traditional practices and customs that appear consistent to others, rather than relying on only one’s self.
- In the text, Emerson asserts his own meaning of what consistency really is through his own values, that, A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. (Emerson 24). When Emerson speaks of consistency, the way in which he describes consistency is presented in such a way that relates to his views towards conformity and nonconformity in society. Of course, as time passes, the world constantly changes, and in society as a whole, people would rather follow the course of tradition, where they refuse openness towards new ideas or ways of thinking in order to solve problems. From this, the assertion that Emerson makes of consistency, is that, consistency is to reject ‘outside the box’ thinking, because, to the conformity of society, to openly think is to risk the stable traditions of society with the prospect of dealing with new problems, but as a result, the only thing the individual truly achieves is mediocrity in the face of one’s potential for greatness, a false claim of knowing, in a world of constant unknowing.
- In the text, Emerson mentions two groups of people who he views as different, the, little statesmen and philosophers [and the] misunderstood. (Emerson 24). Comparing the two groups that Emerson mentions, the people who he categorizes for the misunderstood are many notable, and historical figures known today, such as, but not limited to, Pythagoras, Socrates, Newton, and Jesus. For the group of little statesmen and philosophers, the people who Emerson categorizes as this encompass a broader spectrum of people with power, such as bureaucrats and politicians. Comparatively, in regards to the differences between these two groups of people, the misunderstood are people who follow their own path made by their own intuition, and whether or not that path is one of inconsistency, the misunderstandings that others’ have about them in their time show the trust they have in their beliefs in a society that tries to force off one off their own beliefs. In contrast, the bureaucrats and statesmen of society are people who refuse to rise against the social norm, whether that be in the form of an ‘intellectual-wannabe’, someone who seems to be able to answer any question, but only with ideas that serve to appease the masses, or someone who is too fearful to even speak out in fear of being seen as out of the ordinary.
- In the text, Emerson makes a more obscure statement that has more implied meaning through his values, rather than the words themselves, stating, the divine idea which each of us represents (Emerson 20). Regarding the text, Emerson’s words refer to his his strong promoting of individualism, that is, when Emerson declares that every individual is represented by a ‘divine idea’, Emerson is making reference back to the Transcendentalism movement itself. So, the description he presents to us for every individual in society, is that of having an innate potential for unlimited greatness in one’s lifetime given to one by God.
- In the text, Emerson makes the claim that, To be great is to be misunderstood. (Emerson 25). And in this claim made by Emerson, part of the meaning lies in his previous assertion that consistency is an urge made by society as a means of conforming, and appearing to be just like everyone else. With this in mind, the greatness of the person that Emerson references to is something any individual should agree with because, their willingness to believe in their ideas as the truth, and be themselves in a world that tries to change who they are, regardless of society’s misunderstandings of them, as well as many other individuals, …Pythagoras…Newton.[and] Luther, who were also misunderstood, but nonetheless, held firm to their own truth, were shunned by society, but are great because of that.
- In the text, Emerson makes the statement that, God will not have His work made manifest by cowards (Emerson 20). And in this assertion from Emerson, part of the meaning of it comes from what he sees as genius among men, To believe your own thought, to believe what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men. (Emerson 19). Together with this, as well as the innate human potential for greatness given by God, derived from Transcendentalism, the implied meaning of Emerson’s statement is one that I agree with, that is, truth is accepting one’s own uniqueness, and one’s self identity, however, some will never reach this truth, or realization because they are too afraid, and thus, they try to change the truth of one’s self out of fear or even reject it, since they do not believe their ‘self’ is truly good enough.
Confessions and Self-Reliance
All humanity struggles to answer the question: what is the purpose of life? And how does one achieve this purpose? Saint Augustine of Hippo, a prominent thinker of his time, and Ralph Waldo Emerson, an esteemed poet, both yearned to answer these questions. Using their life experiences, both men composed books with their own answers to these queries hoping to impart clarity to their readers. Confessions, written by Saint Augustine, is a biography from infanthood to adulthood.
In it, he describes the many difficulties he had to face before he was able to uncover what the purpose of life was. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote Self-Reliance, an essay about discovering one’s own individuality and how doing that helps one achieve their purpose. On examining Confessions and Self-Reliance, it is revealed how Saint Augustine and Ralph Waldo Emerson perceive the purpose of life to be and how they believe it can be achieved.
In Self-Reliance, Emerson proposes that the purpose of life is to be completely individualistic and to attain greatness from one’s own self, without relying on society to dictate one’s life. According to Emerson, Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company, in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater (Self-Reliance 21). By saying this, Emerson is implying that to rely on society is to give up one’s own freedom and individuality. He continues further by stating, The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs (Self-Reliance 21). Here, Emerson claims that society promotes conformity and devalues creativity and innovations. He urges readers to not conform to the ways of this word, but to accept their own identity and to further pursue it.
One way a person might pursue their identity in order to achieve the purpose of life is by staying true to his own self. Emerson states that, There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for the better, for worse. (Self-Reliance 20). A key phrase used in this statement is imitation is suicide. Emerson uses this language to convey to his readers that copying the lifestyle or ways of another person can result in the death or suicide of their own character. In addition, Emerson also mentions that to stay true to one’s own self, one must return back to their ‘roots’ or in other words, to their youth. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being (Self-Reliance 20). The phrase, confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age suggests Emerson believed that staying true to one’s self requires re-attaining the ‘boldness of youth’. He also specifically mentions that great men do this which indicates to the readers that in order to become great, one must become like youth.
Emerson also asks readers to not be ashamed of their thoughts and feelings but to be unapologetic of who they are. He expresses this by saying, What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it (Self-Reliance 23). Emerson clearly states that one must focus on what he thinks is the best for his life instead of worrying about what others say and think about one’s decisions. He also says that this rule determines the difference between being great and being average. Emerson adds, It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude (Self-Reliance 23). Here, Emerson claims that it is easy to follow what society says when one is living in society. He also mentions that it is easy to follow one’s own opinion when no one else is there swaying you and when you are in solitude. However, Emerson states that the greatest test that proves how much one truly trusts oneself is when one is living in society and yet one is able to maintain their thoughts without being influenced. Emerson claims that in following these rules one will achieve their purpose in life by becoming individualistic and by becoming ‘great among men’.
Saint Augustine however proposes that the purpose of life is to seek God and his wisdom, and, to humble one’s self in reverence to God. Unlike Emerson, who believes that one should seek his identity, Augustine believes that one must spend their life pursuing after God and His wisdom. Suddenly every vain hope became empty to me, and I longed for the immortality of wisdom with an incredible ardour in my heart. I began to rise up to return to you (Confessions 39). Here Augustine explains that in his life, he experienced a passion and desire to seek after the immortality of wisdom and to return to God. Because of this experience in his life, Augustine appeals to his readers to have that same passion and desire to go after that same wisdom.
Augustine also puts heavy emphasis on being humble before God and showing reverence before Him. Augustine states, Nevertheless allow me to speak before your mercy, though I am but dust and ashes (Gen. 18:27). Allow me to speak: for I am addressing your mercy, not a man who would laugh at me. Perhaps even you deride me (cf. Ps. 2:4), but you will turn and have mercy on me (Jer. 12:15) (Confessions 6). In this statement, Augustine compares himself to be dust and ashes. He brings himself down to the lowest of lows, and begs the Lord to allow him to speak in His presence. Augustine further emphasizes this by saying, Who am I and what am I? What was not evil in my deeds or, if not deeds, in my words or, if not words, in my intention? But you, Lord ‘are good and merciful’ (Ps.102:8). Your right hand had regard to the depths of my dead condition, and from the bottom of my heart had drawn out a trough of corruption (Confessions 155). In his opening, Augustine questions himself, asking What was not evil in my deeds or, if not deeds, in my words or, if not words, in my intention? From this, the readers understand that Augustine continuously humbles himself because he is burdened by all the wrongs he has committed. He feels unworthy before God and is thanking and praising Him for being good and merciful. In contrast to Augustine’s humbleness and desire to pursue God, Emerson believes in being ‘great among men’ by becoming fully individualistic and by seeking one’s own self.
Augustine also provides explanations as to how one might achieve the wisdom that is from God. Augustine suggests that in order to seek after God and His wisdom and to be humble before Him, one must move from the darkness to the light. Surely many return to you from a deeper hell of blindness than Victorinus. They approach and are illuminated as they receive light. Those who receive it obtain from you ‘power to become your sons’ (John 1:9, 12) (Confessions 138). Here Augustine explains that all who seek after God first came from a place that is a deeper hell of blindness than Victorinus, meaning that they came from not knowing anything about God and His wisdom. He then goes on saying, they approach and are illuminated as they receive light, meaning that as they start to pursue God, they receive light or, are illuminated as they receive wisdom that comes from pursuing God. In addition, Augustine also mentions, For a long time past I have been burning to meditate in your law (Ps. 38:4) and confess to you what I know of it and what lies beyond my powers-the first elements granted by your illumination and the remaining areas of darkness in my understanding-until weakness is swallowed up by strength (Confessions 221-222). In saying this, Augustine is implying that he has already received wisdom from God and that he is waiting for even more so that he can rid himself fully of his old ways.
Ridding one’s self of his old ways was something Augustine struggled with. He states, The new will which was beginning to be within me a will to serve you freely and to enjoy you, God, the only sure source of pleasure, was not yet strong enough to conquer my older will, which had the strength of old habit. So my two wills, one old, the other new, one carnal, the other spiritual, were in conflict with one another, and their discord robbed my soul of all concentration (Confessions 140). Here, Augustine explains the conflict between his old will and his new will. His new will was the will that wanted to pursue after God and seek Him, but his old will was the will that wanted to pursue the earthly treasures. However, his new will was not strong enough to overcome the old will. Augustine urges his readers to push the new will forward by pursuing God and to disband the old will by not giving in to it.
After examining Self-Reliance and Confessions by Ralph Waldo Emerson and Saint Augustine, it is clear that both men had different point of views on what the purpose of life is, and how one might go about in order to achieve it. Ralph Waldo Emerson believed that the purpose of life is to be fully individualistic and to become ‘great among men’. However, Saint Augustine believed that the purpose of life is to pursue after God and His wisdom and to be humble in reverence before Him. It is up to every person to determine what they believe the purpose of life is; whether it is to be self-reliant, or whether it is to pursue after Higher Deity.
Analysis of Emerson’s “Nature”
In his essay “Nature,” Ralph Waldo Emerson exhibits an untraditional appreciation for the world around him. Concerned initially with the stars and the world around us, the grandeur of nature, Emerson then turns his attention onto how we perceive objects. “Nature” seeks to show humanity a new form of enlightening the human spirit and urges the formation of a strong link between man and the Universal Spirit. Emerson sees nature as an inspiration for people to grasp a deeper understanding of the spiritual world.Emerson begins his essay by observing the omnipresence of nature, which garners respect from the observer. However, nature always seems distant, indifferent. Emerson then puts forth the idea that not everyone can observe nature, that one must have the capacity to appreciate, to feel awe and wonder, like a child would who does not try to understand but only appreciate. He personifies nature as a woman by giving it human emotions and actions, such as “Nature never wears a mean appearance”, and also that the “wisest man could never loser curiosity by finding out all her perfection.” The experience with nature that Emerson describes is truly sublime, magical and yet indescribably beautiful.Using stars as symbols of the universe, Emerson states that we take stars for granted because they are always present in our lives, no matter where we live. He then moves on from commenting on the faraway stars and begins to discuss the immediate landscape around him. He creates a bond between the stars and the landscape, furthering the theme of a chain linking everything in the universe. Emerson then makes a claim that the person who is most likely to see the whole of nature is the poet, distinguishing the poet from other people. He says that poets can see nature plainly, not superficially as many people do. Instead of using theories of the past that Emerson says need to be discarded, the person who yearns to see must reveal their inner child, accepting nature as it is rather than attempting to manipulate it into something it is not.Emerson’s referral to the Universal Being, which he identifies with God, is what is now identified as transcendentalism. Every object in nature requires an animating life force, through which, Emerson believes that they are linked. Emerson claims that he is nothing, but he sees all. He concludes his chapter on nature by stating that Nature does not have a personality that it alone devises. Humans, he says, give nature the human characteristics we perceive it to have.In the following sections, Emerson relates the idea of nature as an instructor to man and how man can and should learn from nature. Nature is a divine creation of God and through it men can learn to be closer to Him. He refers to nature’s beauty as the qualities of nature that have medicinal and restorative powers for humans. The special beauty of nature has a strong ability to relieve the stress and anxiety that many humans suffer from. Emerson points out that a person who passively loses himself in the landscape will be rewarded by nature’s regenerative powers, whereas a person who consciously seeks out such healing will be tricked by nature’s illusions. In Emerson’s section on the relationship between nature and language, he draws the comparison between words and the objects they represent in nature, and that these objects signify spiritual realities, and nature symbolizes spirituality. He illustrates nature as the interpreter between people, supplying the language that people use to communicate with. For example, he says that all people recognize that light and dark figuratively express knowledge and ignorance. The theme of universal understanding is emphasized further when he claims that each individual shares a universal soul linking that person to all others. Emerson claims that the relationship between the mind and matter is not fancied by some poets, but stands in the will of God, and so is free to be known by all men. The world will become an “open book” from which all can read.Emerson then goes on to tackle the difficult question of subjective truth and the impossibility of verifying the truth of external reality. The average person doesn’t want to know what he thinks is real might be an illusion. However, whether or not nature exists as something distinct remains definitively unanswerable.After analyzing “Nature,” one can see that Ralph Waldo Emerson has a distinct, undeniable love for nature and the sublime. He believes that all enlightenment of the human nature, that all knowledge, that the relationship between God and humans, transcends through nature. Also, all ills and evils in the world may be traceable to this lapsing away from close attention to spiritual truths that comes from nature. Emerson theorizes that each person is a microcosm, a small universe corresponding to the macrocosm of the natural world. His greatest complaint is that we gain a limited knowledge of nature because we too readily mistake understanding for reason. Nature is the inspiration through which humanity begins to understand, not reason with, the natural world.