Essay on Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self Reliance

Essay on Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self Reliance

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Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self Reliance"


Ralph Waldo Emerson believes he writes quite the persuading argument in 'Self-Reliance.' Wielding his pen as if it were Excalibur, he vies to stimulate and challenge the down-trodden mind in his classic work on the American Spirit. His lines are affecting, romantic, and hypnotic, especially at the first reading; his thoughts on the page beget inspiration for the reader. 'Self-Reliance' has its value in its boldness, its construction, and mature attitudes toward consistency and failure. In addition, Emerson's confident logic seems impregnable. At a second glance, however, it becomes apparent that this logic bases itself on a flawed philosophy which does injustice to the value of society. To Emerson, not only is self-doubt absolutely out of the question, but it is a virtue to believe that everyone believes as you do. He writes that there is no value in life but personal principles and goals, and that society is irrelevant. Readers are often charmed and disarmed by his brave, fresh attitude; it may take a few readings to break through this wall of seemingly godly wisdom in 'Self-Reliance.' The glittery facade, however, eventually fades. With time, it becomes clear that Emerson precisely constructs and calculates the wording and paragraphs of his essay to appeal to readers' emotions rather than their reason.

Not all Emerson's work should be shunned. Let us consider his argument's values as well as its shortcomings and give him more of a chance than he gives society. I applaud his boldness in stating, "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines," (1164). The courage to admit one's own...


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...ciety can build on itself and make advances. It is an upward spiral of common interest, not a failure of individual goals. Without society, Emerson would have had no philosophers to feed his mind, no alphabet with which to write, and no society against which to rebel. Even if he were correct in his opinions, I personally would prefer to have society than none at all. I choose to honor my predecessors by building upon their work, and expect the same will be done for our society.

Works Cited:

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. ?Self-Reliance.? The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. 6th ed. Vol. B. New York: W. W. Norton Company, Inc., 2003. 1160?1176.

Emerson, Ralph Waldo. ?The American Scholar.? The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. 6th ed. Vol. B. New York: W. W. Norton Company, Inc., 2003. 1135?1147.

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