EmersonandThoreauNotes

EmersonandThoreauNotes - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance...

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Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance” Speaking of original and unconventional thought, Emerson posits, “The sentiment they instill is of more value than any thought they may contain. To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius,” (1). Emerson urges us to cease to rely blindly on tradition and the thoughts of those reputed to be wise, and to develop a faith in our own abilities, “…the highest merit we ascribe to Moses, Plato, and Milton is, that they set at naught books and traditions, and spoke not what men but what they thought. A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his,” (1). Works of genius, indeed, should inspire self-certainty in the viewer, as Emerson asserts, “They teach us to abide by our spontaneous impression with good- humored inflexibility then most when the whole cry of voices is on the other side,” (1). Emerson argues that each of us is capable of making a unique contribution to the world, but that can only happen through autonomous self-development, “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 come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till. The power which resides in him is new in nature, and none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried,” (1). Emerson maintains that we only find satisfaction where we have truly invested our independent thought and effort. He further declares that we can only rely on our own genius in claiming, “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events…we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny,” (1-2). Is there a kind of determinism in this? On the other hand, he gives the candor and independence of youth as a natural proof of his argument. Emerson strongly criticizes mainstream society and laments the impact that society has on the individual in stating, “These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world. 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
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This note was uploaded on 02/25/2012 for the course 790 376 taught by Professor Murphy during the Spring '09 term at Rutgers.

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EmersonandThoreauNotes - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance...

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