Self Reliance


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The essay “Self-Reliance”, by Ralph Waldo Emerson, is a persuasive essay promoting the ways of transcendentalism. He uses this paper to advance a major point using a structure that helps his argument. In the paper, Emerson begins his concluding thoughts with a statement that greater self-reliance will bring a revolution. He then applies this idea to society and all of its aspects, including religion, education, and art. This brings Emerson to a new, more precise focus on how society never advance, rather it recedes on one side as fast as it gains on the other. This shocking, yet intriguing, idea is supported and augmented using tone, metaphor, example, and the consequence of ignoring his opinion. The final result is a conglomeration of ideas into the major points that, “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” With the major points and devices used by Emerson defined, it is now possible to examine in greater detail how he persuades the reader, starting with the use of tone.

The use of word choice, sentence length and structure, as well as many other factors set the tone of this paper. The final result is a paper that has a conciliatory tone. A paper written in this authoritative style is helpful in persuasion. It pulls the reader into the authors ideas, making them your own. The tone of the paper thus allows for metaphors to be extremely powerful in promoting Emerson’s ideas.

The metaphors are numerous throughout the paper, however there is one indelible one towards the end of the paper that really helps to shape the essay. “Society is a wave. The wave move onward, but the water of which it is composed does not.” The clear metaphor of society to the wave and the particles of water to the people distinctively demonstrates Emerson’s idea the society never advances. If a man is not self-confident and is unable to share himself with others, as people die so too does their experience. But the ability to be self-reliant eliminates this loss of experience. Although this metaphor is strong enough on its own to provide all of the support necessary for the idea that society never advances, Emerson adds to it and his other ideas with examples.

The first examples are used to support the lack of progression of society. The “civilized” man of the Americas and Europe is compared to the “savages” of New Zealand.

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It is here that Emerson brings into question the digression in physical strength of men as he makes “advances”. These advances do just as much harm as good, making man lazy and indolent. Other areas that Emerson scrutinizes are the loss of skills that only years ago were essential, such as the ability to tell time by the sun, and the loss of attention to detail. With Emerson’s ideas clearly imbedded in our mind, and added by his style of inductive writing, he uses the consequences of ignoring him as the final blow in this battle to persuade.

Although no consequence is clearly defined, Emerson has made it more than clear what will happen if people do not become more individualistic. Society will stay as it is, no matter how many technological advances are made. This fear of being no better nor advanced than previous eras is the most powerful motivator for change of all. Emerson’s challenge to not rely on fortune, rather to make things happen for yourself is exactly what he want it to be, motivational and persuasive.

The promotion of transcendentalism in Emerson’s essay “Self-Reliance” is the promotion of a way of better living according to Emerson. The structural support of self-reliance in “Self-Reliance” through tone, metaphor, example, and the consequence of ignoring Emerson’s opinion achieves the goal of persuasion. This produces the final result of a vote for independence, telling that “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.” The promise of the transcendentalist of personal peace with the achievement of self-reliance would be nothing more than an outlandish idea without Emerson’s ability to structure and support his idea.



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