25.3: Introduction (2016)
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“Self-Reliance” is an essay written by the mid-19th century philosopher and writer, Ralph Waldo Emerson. Ralph Emerson was born in Boston, Massachusetts and raised mainly by his mother after his father’s passing. He was an ordained pastor at one point, but left the church, saying: “I have sometimes thought that, in order to be a good minister, it was necessary to leave the ministry. The profession is antiquated. In an altered age, we worship in the dead forms of our forefathers”(Age of Sage). After leaving the ministry, he set out to gain knowledge from different philosophers and writers across Europe, and he would eventually bring back his ideas and share them with the American public in the form of now-famous essays. Emerson’s work is considered to be highly influential, mainly due to being a founding member of the Transcendental movement, an intellectual movement that formed in protest against intellectualism and spiritual beliefs around that time period. He would be a voice of his generation to enable the average person to shy away from society and conformity and instead, be a free-thinking individual.
Emerson believes that we should not conform to opinions and beliefs of society and that we should be able to keep an independent mind. “It is easy in the world to live after the world’s opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude”(Emerson 5). He prefers the lack of conformity and consistency in the world and wants things to be more sporadic, and for people to form their own ideologies. To be a great thinker and to allow for one’s mind to guide them instead of others is the key. “That a true man belongs to no other time or place, but is the center of things”(Emerson 8).
“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string”(Emerson 2). One of the main themes of Emerson’s self reliance is trust yourself and believe in what you believe in. This quote essentially means, if you believe in yourself, anything you’d try to accomplish, you would be able to. Emerson’s claims can all be determined by your individual mindset. According to Emerson, if you trust yourself, you can be content in anything and everything you do. Emerson also says that “infancy conforms to nobody: all conform to it”(Emerson 3). If we continued this mindset into our adult years, it would really help to continue to bring self reliance into our older years. Living by our own rules and standards is a way to continue delegating our own lives using Emerson’s idea of self reliance.
Self Reliance is a pivotal text to read, as it is the essence of how we are to manage ourselves in our everyday lives. Self Reliance, and the concepts therein, are the essential backbone of how society, and the world, behaves. Through the text, readers will obtain a deeper, more fruitful understanding on believing in oneself, understanding that there is nothing wrong with being misunderstood (Emerson even advocates for it), and that one’s own soul, itself, is self reliant. This text must be anthologized as a work of American literature, as this land as it is known would not exist without the concepts explained within the text. The original explorers of America, Crevecoeur, Columbus, and vast quantities of others all used self reliance to achieve the founding and settling of America, and to lead America into what it is today. Self Reliance proves to be a vital text today, and must be anthologized, as it enables readers to avoid misconceptions and fallacies, and to, instead, bring fresh, new, and original ideas to allow themselves, as well as the community around them, to further grow and expand in their thinking and behaving. To think freely is to expand and grow – this is the only way new ideas are created, and, thus, Self Reliance is key to evolve and continue to improve. Readers must feel encouraged to pursue and advocate for their own original ideas, and Emerson’s Self Reliance enables this. Self Reliance is a pivotal text in American literary history, and must be anthologized.