Is Complete Self-Reliance Possible?

Is Complete Self-Reliance Possible?

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Self-Reliance - Is Complete Self-Reliance Possible?

If you are self-reliant then you don’t need to depend on anyone. That is the obvious message that Emerson is trying to convey in his essay "Self-Reliance". It seems as though Emerson believes that we all need to be individuals and put ourselves before anyone else. However, the real question is “is it possible to be totally self-reliant”.

After re-reading Self-Reliance I feel as though this question really can’t be answered. Emerson gives us a very confusing argument that seems to run around in circles with no apparent end in sight. He believes that we can all be "self-sufficient" but is that true? Most of the class seemed to believe that it is not possible to be "totally" self-reliant. Examples for this would be that not all of us are doctors and since injuries occur frequently as do "cold like" viruses it would be totally impossible to be self-reliant if you wished to live a long and healthy life. Another example would be the quest for knowledge, you have to depend on others that have lived before you and the books that they have written to truly understand the present world. But would this just be using the tools that are around you? There is no clear answer in the essay. The loopholes never stop but they eventually get answered somewhere in the essay but by then you are too confused to actually catch the meanings.

The web-text really helped on this reading especially where the "major flaw" of the essay is concerned. I have to agree with both Ann Woodlief as well as the rest of the class that Emerson really did use "overkill" to the extreme in this essay. As the class was discussing the essay I immediately knew what was taking place but every time I thought I knew what was going on Emerson did a "twist and turn" that would confuse us. He didn’t seem to care if the reader understood everything he was speaking about just as long as they got the general idea. I guess he would just fill in the gaps later in the essay and didn’t feel as though he needed to explain every point.

Another point that the class wanted to know about was, who is he writing this essay for. Is it for himself, his peers, the common man or possibly the college student?

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The class seemed to believe that Emerson had the college student (or equivalent) in mind when he was writing this because "we" are in a type of "self-reliance". College students(and professors) are the only ones that will have time to read and analyze this essay to the degree that we actually start to partly understand it. We are living a type of self-sufficiency that can only be experienced by those who don’t have to worry about a great number of "bills", but even this only occurs for an allotted amount of time. Maybe the real point of his essay is just believing in yourself and acting upon what you derive as being "right" or "just". Then again maybe that is not possible, not by today’s standards in a world where anything that you must do to get ahead, you do without feeling.

Possibly the greatest and most criticized part of this essay is that it has a very simplistic message: "just decide what you want to do and do it". I find this message very hard to swallow. I believe that Emerson realized this as he was writing "self-reliance" and started to lean toward individuality instead of extreme self-reliance. This would account for all the conflicting points in the essay and why there is so many gaps and holes throughout. Later in the essay he does start to give credit to other personality traits, which show that he did start to believe that the individual may need "outside" forces for true understanding of moral development.

The one point that the class did take from this work is self-reliance is more of an ideal that we strive to reach but may be just outside our grasp. It would be nice if, as the web text points out, we could all just trust ourselves and follow our hearts but unfortunately not everyone can just "get up" and leave and do what they want(most of this is because of a financial need that most of society must satisfy).

So was Emerson right or wrong in his conclusions on self-reliance? The class seemed not have various opinions that he was neither right nor wrong. I would have to agree and actually go a step further and say that the essay was written so that every reader could relate to something in the essay and walk away with a piece of knowledge that may have been previously unavailable to him/her. I am sure that many students have found great comfort in the fact that Emerson’s life was a whirlwind of troubles and that his essays, especially self-reliance, advise the reader that the voyage of life is one that has many twists and turns and will never have a straight line. Maybe the hidden meaning of this essay is that it is not talking about a sense of reliance but living out your fantasies in your own heart where you have no limitations. Inside yourself you can "just pick up" and leave without the fear of your financial responsibilities or other limitations in reality. I believe that Emerson realized this while he was writing and began to change his "meanings" in the essay. This may account for the confusing loopholes and gaps that plague the essay.
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