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Emerson, Essay, Research Paper

Ralph W. Emerson was a profound American Transcendentalist essayist and poet from the 19th century, he was the father and founder of American Transcendentalism. Furthermore he was the more remarkable philosopher of his century, he was more a philosopher than a literary person. Transcendentalism defined “reason” as the highest human faculty, the individual’s innate capacity to grasp beauty and truth by allowing full play to the intellect and emotions. The movement emerged from a small group of intellectuals centered in Concord, Massachusetts, and Emerson proved not only its intellectual leader but its most eloquent voice as well.

Emerson posed an uncommon freedom of thought product of his childhood conditions, adult experiences and powerful influences. His family was not exceptionally wealthy, but they remained respected in their community. It was this environment of spirituality that formed his morals and fostered his ardent views on anti-slavery and the women’s movement. An experience that left him heartbroken was the death of his wife which inspired him to travel abroad. It was during these travels that Emerson met Coleridge and Wordsworth and was first exposed to English Romanticism literary and intellectual influences. During this time he also began formulating the ideas that would later be born into the essay Self-Reliance . The combination of his wife’s death and the exhilaration of travel to distant lands (including Italy, France, England, and Scotland), provided the feelings of independence and strength that emerge in this piece. He had other influences in his ideas: the believe in intuition from the Neo-Platonism and the Yankee Pragmatism.

Emerson’s writing style can be labeled unconventional. Indeed he comes across as a writer more familiar with the conventions of public speaking than the protocol of literary form. In fact, his writing fluctuates like a conversation, often appearing to become tangential, until upon concluding the piece, the reader develops a sense of how perfectly each strand of information was woven into the piece. Often this sense of cohesion remains elusive until the end of the writing. He has a certain ability to pull his thoughts together just before his point is lost, leaving the reader a bit dazed and over-informed, but impressed never the less.

His skill in providing everyday examples for his often obscure and abstract ideas had the effect of simmering his lengthy descriptions down to bite-sized morsels easily digested by even the common reader. These analogies also lent his writings a certain visual element, which served to keep the reader enticed by the work. Emerson was also given to indulging in the use of colloquialisms to further illustrate his writings.

Emerson’s Essay Self-Reliance encourages the reader to free himself from the constraints of conformity and give himself over to his nature, which he supposes no man can violate. His theory is that everything in nature operates in tune with divine Providence, and that by conforming oneself to social conventions, man cuts himself of from that rhythm which dictates all life. The text then proceeds to encourage man to get back to that state. To strip itself of the routine thought associated with the rigidity of society, and to live in tune with the whims of the spirit, which he insists, will not mislead. He emphasizes over and over again that in order to gain ones own independence, one must first abandon all learned things and seek to accumulate thereafter only the knowledge which one attains firsthand and deems pertinent to be assimilated into ones own truth. “Nothing is at last sacred, but the integrity of your own mind” states Emerson, because “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself” The general theme of this work is trust in self as related to independence. The aspects of life which distract men from self-reliance are, among other things, Religion, Education, Art, Society and Property. He thought that we are prisoners of our family ties, professions, church… and we had to liberate ourselves from all the ties. Emerson wanted people were independent and in control of their own lives, no matter what other people think. He refers to independence of solitude and about being a non-conformist, yet he writes as though he wants people to listen to him. We should follow the desires of our hearts no matter what anybody else thinks or says about it. During the time of Emerson’s work, Transcendentalism was the main issue in many of the minds of the people, including Emerson. This was the idea of mind over matter, relating to the fact of being independent and relying on nobody but yourself. Self-reliance was big issue for the Transcendental era.

The main theme of Self-Reliance is morality which is evident throughout the entire writing. He is assuming that people are like him and want to change. For him the most unmoral thing is to act against your own principles. But in concrete, in these lines of the essay Emerson speaks about the costume of traveling in general and more precise of the costume that had the Americans to travel to Europe to get knowledge. What he says about traveling is that if you do it to learn and expand yourself, then that is good. Hopefully you will see that the truth is universal and expression of the truth should be a moral law. However, traveling for fun is the same as running from the truth and in a sense running from yourself. He protest of the belief of travelling because the journey we should make is an inner journey, not to all around the world. Going far is an artificial way of learning, the knowledge lives next door and it s not necessary to travel far to get it.

The ideas that Emerson expose in this essay can be connected with other ones which he expose in his other essays, for example in “The American Scholar” he called upon his countrymen to achieve an intellectual independence from Europe to complement the political independence they had already achieved. He is questioning what the American s scholar role in society would be. The Scholar must be a kind of bookworm who must let his own ideas be shown and then became a leader for others. He can be influenced only by Nature and books to get her own principles and become a man of action without being influenced by society. Self-trust to believe in him and his own ideas.

To conclude only add some quotations that Emerson said on these themes: “We look too much abroad. . . . Let us become real and true Americans.” In his address to Harvard, he asked, “Why should not we have a poetry and philosophy of insight and not of tradition and a religion by revelation to us? Let us demand our own works and laws and worship.” For him the most important thing as he explained in Self-Reliance was Insist on yourself; never imitate [...] Every great man is a unique.

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