The Importance of Non-conformity and Independent Beliefs in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance

The Importance of Non-conformity and Independent Beliefs in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance

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In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” Emerson calls for each person in society to be wholly true to themselves. He claims that it is most rewarding to the individual and the society for people to believe in one’s own thoughts and not in the thoughts of others. Emerson believes that conformity will ultimately lead to an individual’s demise because by living for others, people are not being true to themselves. Therefore in order to have a well-formed society, citizens should focus inward and have confidence in their own ideas before beginning to look towards other individuals; moreover, Emerson calls individuals not only in “Self-Reliance,” but also in numerous essays to act independently from conformity and to live for themselves.
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s main theme in “Self-Reliance” places emphasis on the individual’s ideas and not the ideas of others. Emerson strongly believes that “imitation is suicide.” To Emerson, if a person possesses an opinion, the person should voice that opinion immediately without doubt. As Emerson states, “History, and the state of the world at any one time is directly dependent on the intellectual classification then existing in the minds of men. Beware when God lets loose a great thinker on this planet. Then all things are at risk. The very hopes of man, the thoughts of his heart, the religion of nations, the manner and morals of mankind are all at the mercy of a new generalization.” (Dewey 408).
He calls for people to have confidence in themselves and to cease living by the world’s universal ideas. He places great importance on the fact that a person should always be true to himself or herself. He believes that if people begin living according to everyone else’s wishes, they will ...


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Yannella, Donald. "Chapter 3: Self-Evolving Circle." Ralph Waldo Emerson. Donald Yannella. Boston: Twayne, 1982. Twayne's United States Authors Series 414. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.
Works Consulted
deTocqueville, Alexis. Democracy in America. New York: Harper Perennial, 1988. 537. American Political Science Assoc. Web. 19 Apr. 2010.
Emerson, Ralph W. "The American Scholar." Vol. 7. The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Julia Reidhead. 7th ed. N.p.: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2008. 7 vols. 520-32. Print.
"Overview: “Self-Reliance”." Literature and Its Times: Profiles of 300 Notable Literary Works and the Historical Events that Influenced Them. Joyce Moss and George Wilson. Vol. 2: Civil Wars to Frontier Societies (1800-1880s). Detroit: Gale, 1997. Literature Resources from Gale. Web. 19 Apr. 2010

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