The Power of Books in Emerson’s The American Scholar

April 27, 2022 by Essay Writer

In a world where the written word is most commonly seen on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram–digital platforms where things like sarcasm, excitement, and grief are often hard to detect without the use of emojis– it is extremely likely that the un-embellished words of printed literature are grievously misinterpreted. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s assertion that ‘books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst’ is perhaps more relevant now than ever. Thanks to social media, literally everything is open to public scrutiny. Every arbitrary twitter user has the ability to voice their opinion on any topic, regardless of the level of education or prior knowledge they have on said topics. Literature is no exception. Individuals who have never even touched the Bible or Qur’an have assumptions and opinions on what it says. When Ralph Waldo Emerson says that books are the best things when they’re used well, the obvious first step of using a book well is to actually read it. This step seems to be bypassed completely all too often in today’s day and age. Tumblr users can rant about what the Bible says and what they believe it implies, and their followers can be manipulated by their knowledgeable word choice and confident tone into thinking the user is a reasonable authority on the Bible, when if fact, they’re only spouting things they’ve heard about such holy books from other misinformed individuals. It is for this reason that blatantly blasphemous phrases such as ‘God hates gays’ and ‘Muslims are violent’ have become accepted facts to many people of our generation, even though they have have no basis in the actual text. If perhaps the individual has taken the first step and actually read the book, the second step to ‘using a book well’ is to make educated and sensitive interpretations based on an understanding of the text.

Things to take into consideration when attempting to respect the sanctity of a piece of literature are things such as context, intended audience, and literality. When one foregoes the act of making informed textual interpretations, and makes assumptions about a text based on bias, personal opinion/agenda, or a willingness to simply go along with what he has heard his peer say about the text, he is again abusing the sanctity of books. This has great relevancy today because literature is so widely available to anyone and everyone. And while this is wonderful and vital– to allow every man the chance to form opinions of and connections with millions of books and pieces of writing, it obviously means that everyone is allowed to abuse books as well. Besides the fact that books have the power to influence opinions, they also have the power to influence actions. Mein Kamf was kept off of German shelves for seventy years because of the fear that it would prompt a Hitler inspired uprising. The Constitution and it’s many connotations has led to street riots and the destruction of cities.

Books hold such power, but often people misuse this power or let it influence their actions to the point of violence. Anyone who inflicts pain upon others because of something read in a book has sorely misused and abused that book.It is unfortunate, but there are myriad ways in which individuals can– and do, on a regular basis in this era– abuse books. When a book is not opened, it is being abused. When a book is misinterpreted, it is being abused. When a book is used as a prompting for acts of violence or hatred, it is being abused. When books are abused, they are being bastardized of their original intent for good. Ralph Waldo Emerson could not be more correct when he claims that books, when abused, are among the worst of all things.


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