Emerson’s “Self Reliance”, Inspiring A New Sense Of Nationalism

791 words - 4 pages

One of the most notable works of mid -19th century romantic literature is the essay “Self-Reliance”, written by Ralph Waldo Emerson. Emerson believed in transcendentalism, the idea that everyone has access to and can discover truth, or God, through development of themselves; spiritually and intellectually. In his essay “Self-Reliance” Emerson challenges Americans to create their own cultures and customs, branching out from the social norms. Emerson uses various strategies to inspire nationalism within Americans by encouraging them to not conform to society but instead formulate new ideas.
Emerson takes many different approaches to encourage Americans to devise and share new thoughts and ideas that might not always be accepted by other people. Emerson introduces this idea by beginning his essay with a personal anecdote. He begins by recalling a poem he read by a distinguished artist that was “original and not conventional” (Pg. 549). This anecdote first allows the readers to feel comfortable and familiarize themselves with Emerson and second, increases their reception of the points in the essay that they will read about. This anecdote also introduces one of the main focuses of Emerson’s essay. That everyone else, like himself, should have their own opinions and thoughts and not always follow the practices of others. Later in the paragraph, Emerson does note that it is harder for a person to develop these thoughts because people are easily swayed by fears of being shunned and the opinions of outside influences. In addition to anecdotes, Emerson also uses diverse references to authority. He first mentions Moses, Plato and John Milton; prominent figures who “spoke not what men but what they thought” (549). They are three remarkable people from very distinct areas, religion, philosophy and literature; therefore Emerson’s is able to appeal to a multitude of people. Emerson also remarks that these figures came up with new ideas and did not let others influence our decisions, circling back to his previous point about not complying. Furthermore, Emerson mentions significant men like Jesus, Galileo, and Isaac Newton where he remarks that “to be great is to be misunderstood” (554). This reflects his notion that not everyone will understand and appreciate a different way of thinking however; these men became so prominent for transcending common expectations and understanding. By presenting famous...

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