Week 11: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Transcendentalism, and The American Renaissance

Please watch my video lecture first:

By Monday, Nov. 9, please read two essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson:

  1. “Self-Reliance”,
  2. Excerpts from “The American Scholar”

Post a response to one passage (or quote) from each essay. In your post, include an example in society, or from your own experiences, that connects to Emerson’s ideas. Be sure to read the posts of students before you and try to choose a passage that has not been written on. Have fun with these rich and thoughtful essays.

29 Comments

  1. Jingquan Feng

    Nowadays, people are controlled by new technology. Every day when you wake up, the first thing you do is check your phone. Your smartphone knows you better than yourself and your parents because you are too reliant on it. When you don’t know how to do a math problem, you google it immediately. When you think about what kind of food you want to eat at lunch, you open an app; it gives out your favorite place that you order every day, and you choose one from it. These examples show that people seem like they don’t trust their judgments in the first place. They can have their minds independent, but they decide not to follow their minds and let a machine control you to live your life. In the essay “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, he said: “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” What does it mean? It means that you have to trust yourself and live your life by yourself independently.
    People should not let others make their choice. For example, if you have a problem, don’t google it; find a few books, read it, and solve it yourself. Then you can learn from it. Second, if you don’t know what you want to eat at lunch, go out to the street in person to find what you want, maybe you find something new to you. Also, in the essay “The American Scholar.” Ralph Waldo Emerson said: “To the young mind, everything is individual, stands by itself.” It also gives out the idea that people are independent; they should stand for themselves. It reminds me of the election that we have today. When you open a social app or youtube, there are many ads on these platforms. Most of the ads are trashing each other, and these ads try to manipulate you to get them elected. People should turn off these social media, go to the street(with mask) and see what the reality looks like today. Then follow your heart and vote for the people who qualified to fix the problems we have today. Don’t let others influence your decision.

    • Mark

      Jinquan,

      I like your comments on how important it is for today’s youth to be independently minded. I particularly liked the line how too many people are “are controlled by new technology.”
      This will be a major theme in this week’s reading when we explore Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.” Excellent post.

  2. Marjan Ahmed

    We live in a world where most people have to follow the rules of society or communities. I am not against the rules, it must be followed to maintain a good environment. But sometimes, those rules and the thinking of people can make you take a step which can affect your happiness and mentality negatively. The title of the passage just reminded me of many situations I faced in the past, but I cannot share them since they are little personal. “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.” Exactly what the moto of my life has become. Never care about what people think of your action as long as you are happy. But one must not take any step, being selfish enough to hurt others for own happiness.
    My believe is, struggle makes one strong, but you cannot let the thoughts of others get to you. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said in Self-Reliance, “you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it.” It is very much true that people like to interfere in your business most of the time. Just looking at the election (not trying to be political), people are trying to force their believe into others. Whoever they support, they are telling people why their candidate is right, and others’ is wrong (faced it yesterday myself). Another quote says, “because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.” It reminds about Hester Prynne of the Scarlet Letter, where everyone in the town started to look down on a woman who did something “wrong” according to the society, despite the fact that it was her life and her choice. The world is still the same, people mock you, give you advice for which you did not even ask. I am not saying it happens everywhere, definitely people are busy with their life, jobs, and family responsibility, yet there are many people who do not have anything to do but envy on others.

    • Mark

      Very rich and thoughtful response Marjan. When taken seriously (as you do), Emerson’s words are truly wise: “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.”

      Your connection of another of Emerson’s quotes to Hester Prynn is truly spot on: “Because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them.” Any oh yes, let’s not forget how “pushy” voters have been to support their candidates this week — or else! Terrific postl

  3. Lisbeth Rivas

    Often, we find ourselves always worried about what others would think before doing something instead of just doing it because we want to. I can speak for myself when saying that sometimes before doing something, I always think about what others might say or think. When it should not be the case. If I want to do something I shouldn’t just right away think about other’s feelings but instead; put my feelings first and just do it because I can and; I want to. One particular passage that caught my eye in “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson is “The easy thing in the world is 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.” I think it’s easy to lose yourself in trying to find the person you want to be by listening to what people have to say about you. Most opinions shouldn’t matter to you especially when it concerns one’s life. We’re here to learn from our mistakes, make our own choices, embark on our journey. If we just followed what everyone else did, what would we learn? We shouldn’t waste the energy of being concerned about what other people are doing with their lives but focus on what to do with ours. As a get older I realize more and more how little someone’s opinion of you should matter. How little power it should hold. There is a different version of ourselves in everyone’s head and only you truly know yourself. I hope that I can start listening to my advice. In “The American Scholar” one quote that spoke out to me was “Men such as they are, very naturally seek money or power; and power because it is as good as money, — the “spoils,” so-called, “of office.” And why not? for they aspire to the highest, and this, in their sleep-walking, they dream is highest.” He talks about how we are naturally seeking power and money until we reach the highest that we can dream. Money and power make this world go round. As much as I wish that was not the case, it is. In today’s world, people are power hungry and everything is always a competition, we’re always competing with each other to see who’s doing better, who’s making the most money, who is making their way to the top. I mean look at America it’s both money and a power-hungry country filled with greedy people who all want the same thing, which is who will reach the top first. The poor are getting poorer and the rich are getting richer. I think as humans most of us forgot what it is like to be selfless and keep people’s best interest at heart.

    • Mark

      This is an extremely wise and well-written response to Emerson’s great writings. Your opening line really gets to the heart of why he is so important for achieving our true selves:

      “Often, we find ourselves always worried about what others would think before doing something instead of just doing it because we want to.”

      Wonderfully written post, filled with excellent quotations!

  4. Manija Shouff

    After reading “Self – Reliance” by Ralph Emerson, Emerson wants people to be individuals and separate themselves from society where they must think on their own and make their own decisions. There are many people who have different opinions but for some odd reason they don’t express it or follow it, maybe they don’t want to be the oddball, or they don’t want to be left out. We should not let others influence our feelings, thoughts, or behaviors like right now the Presidential election. One quote that stood out to me was “The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks” to me this quote is telling me there is no easy road to success which reminds me of my experience a while back. When I got my first job, my office was in the basement (archive), it was always cold and dusty, no air and I hardly seen anyone from the company but the electricians. I was always on the run, doing something and slowly had noticed I was getting sick and tired of working in the basement, I was ready to quit when one day the general manager noticed me and asked HR who I was, after that day I got a promotion and ever since whenever something seems hard to me, I don’t stress it but accept it, knowing that something greater is coming my way.
    The “American Scholar” by Ralph Emerson, in this speech Emerson makes a speech before the PHI BETA KAPPA Society, (I presume these are students) telling them how “man” can be anything, a priest, farmer or a scholar. He also mentions books many times, how books are great and bad, “Books are the best of things, well used: abused, among the worst…they are for nothing but to inspire.” He is saying how scholars or Man can use books for inspirations and to learn of the past, and not repeat it but to come up with new ideas for the future. This quote is same as “those who do not know history doomed to repeat it” people do learn of history and still repeat it. Looks like people have not learned anything and will keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again.

    • Mark

      Excellent post Manija. Your choice of quote (“The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks”) and personal connection to it is a great example of not worrying where things are going but just trust in the good work you are doing.

      Thanks for sharing!

  5. Brianna Lesperences

    Often times you hear constant criticism towards the younger generation. Some of these criticism are that the younger generation relies too much on technology, they are always on social media, they don’t know how to interact within society, etc. What I believe is that the younger generation makes a huge impact in society, this isn’t to say that the generations from before are useless; but what I am saying is that youths help to shape and make changes within society in order for us to grow. One particular quote that stood out to me in “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, would be in the Trust Thyself section when he states “Do not think that the youth has no force, because he cannot speak to you and me. Hark! in the next room his voice is sufficiently clear and emphatic. It seems he knows how to speak to his contemporaries. Bashful and bold, he will know how to make us seniors very unnecessary.” There are certain things that are now being spoken about in society because of Millennials and some of Gen Z starting that “uncomfortable” conversation. One example would be mental health, the topic of mental health has been ignored amongst many generations. Since Millennials has openly talked about their mental health on social media it has open up the gate for others, which help them feel comfortable enough to share their experiences.
    In “The American Scholar” a quote that stood out to me was “Books are the best type of the influence of the past, and perhaps we shall get at the truth, — learn the amount of this influence more conveniently, — by considering their value alone.” Ralph talks about questioning the value and the “truth” that were written in the books of the past. He goes on to say people need to figure out what kind of influence these books in the past has had on people during that era, once you learn about that particular influence the value is then questioned on what is considered to be the truth within academics.

    • Mark

      Very insightful readings of Emerson central tenets. Your interesting quote from Emerson and discussion of it in relation to how today’s youth generations have opened up and positively influenced the world is a very interesting example of Emersonianism today.

      “Do not think that the youth has no force, because he cannot speak to you and me. Hark! in the next room his voice is sufficiently clear and emphatic. It seems he knows how to speak to his contemporaries. Bashful and bold, he will know how to make us seniors very unnecessary.”

  6. Galileo D

    Assignment
    Self-Reliance
    There have always been debates on the significance of self-reliance. It is a good idea for individuals to be self-critical. It is the deepest sense that an individual needs to help in trusting instincts and displaying the courage to put good ideas into the world. Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson is one of the most interesting pieces that discuss the significance of self-reliance on one’s life. Emerson discusses the perspectives and beliefs on how society has negatively influenced people’s growth across the world. He argued that self-reliance, individualism, and self-trust play an important role in avoiding the conformity that society has imposed on them. It was interesting to learn how much we impose conformity on ourselves without necessarily understanding what we are doing. I have learned how to develop self-reliance by learning to be myself and practicing making my judgments and holding my values. Using these to guide towards my goal must not underestimate the power of one’s intuition. I must never be afraid to be myself. I remember one of my friends who was robbed and took a long time before accepting the situation. I had to talk with him and understand the significance of being alive rather than thinking a lot about what society perceives. We must break the barriers of society to be us for our growth.
    The American Scholar
    Emerson’s The American Scholar is one of the most interesting articles I ever read on human beings. The article has exclusively discussed the thinking of an individual and factors that influence such thinking. It has exclusively discussed the impacts of nature, experience and books, actions, and education on growth. I have always wondered what could happen without the existence of laws, social pressures, and rules. Although it is an interesting idea, it is close to impossibility since there will be external impacts of our society’s actions. Nonetheless, there is a reward of going one’s way, far better than the risks involved. It is important to learn from the mistakes made on the way and avoid them in future. For instance, I remember when I joined middle school and avoided sports for fearing to perform poorly. It did not take long before I confronted my fears and started playing and enjoying the game. I became one of the most important members of the basketball team in the school. I learned that fear must never be part of me.

    • Mark

      Galileo,

      You hit on an extremely important point regularly stressed by Emerson: the need to have courage.

      Also insightful was your comment: “It was interesting to learn how much we impose conformity on ourselves without necessarily understanding what we are doing.”

      Excellent observations.

  7. Dkaran

    After reading “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, I feel everyone should follow their own instincts and want people to trust their own instincts too. Ralph Emerson’s wants us to approach our work with confidence and the mindset of doing our best. I think Emerson wants everyone in our society to be their best self and be a leader not a follower. Emerson credits Moses, Plato, and Milton for ignoring books and traditions to express their own feelings and opinions. Everyone goes through ups and downs through education at some point but you have to put your heart into your work for the best outcome. Emerson says the only thing that is scary is the integrity of your own mind because the only thing that keeps us from reaching our full potential is the strength of our minds. “Nothing can bring you peace but yourself; Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles”, this quote ends everything perfectly because we shouldn’t be affected by external events in our lives but find peace within them that can’t be changed by external events that are positive or negative. In other words, you’re the only person that can make yourself happy and you shouldn’t count on anyone or anything to bring you happiness. Self-Reliance main point is pursuing one’s own thoughts and instinct rather than caring what everyone else is going to say. In society people try to be someone they are not by following the latest fashion trend or having the newest iPhone rather than bringing happiness to themselves because having new expensive things could be nice but you still have a void that is not filled.
    Ralph Waldo Emerson “The American Scholar”: {11} “But the final value of action, like that of books, and better than books, is, that it is a resource” shows that books contain the learning of the past and he wants every age to create its their own books to find out their own truths. Emerson believed that, for the scholar, realizing the connection between humans and nature was a primary way to understanding.

    • Mark

      Deonarine,

      Terrific analysis of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s writings. You choose excellent quotes and captured his aims perfectly in your line that he “wants us to approach our work with confidence and the mindset of doing our best.”
      Exactly right!

  8. Richard Li

    After reading Self-Reliance, the one passage that struck me the most was “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think”. With social media and technology ever expanding, people are always trying to make themselves like other people because that is what they think is the standard, but in reality should be doing what they do best and not care about what other people really think about them. This happens almost everyday like in the classrooms when the teacher asks a question and a kid answers, even though they may get the answer wrong, they should not care about what other people think because in the end, they are the ones learning and not the ones making fun of them for saying something wrong. In the end you should do what makes you happy and not care what other people think of you for it.
    After reading “The American Scholar”, the second paragraph talking about how, “The next great influence into the spirit of the scholar, is, the mind of the Past…” tells us that we can learn from our mistakes and become better because we know more now due to books because books are what allows us to learn as well as to know the truth. Books are the best at teaching us the past which will influence our futures.

    • Mark

      Nice readings and examples Richard. I also like this quote above all the others:

      “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think”.

      It’s simple wisdom but certainly hard to achieve as you acutely point out.

  9. Dan

    The passage I relate the most to in Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, “Self-Reliance” is as follows, “Accept the place the divine providence has found for you, the society of your contemporaries, the connection of events. Great men have always done so, and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age, betraying their perception that the absolutely trustworthy was seated at their heart, working through their hands, predominating in all their being. And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids in a protected corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.” I have studied Shaolin Kungfu for over 15 years now, not only is this a martial art, but where I train, Kungfu is considered an action-meditation. Like much of Emerson’s essay, the philosophy of his religion is incorporated into his work, and this reminds me of my Shifu’s (Kungfu Master) teaching’s. One major lesson that my Shifu has drilled into my head, and will be apart of me until the day I die, is that one should always trust yourself, and love yourself. Emerson write’s, “…guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark.” When I find myself in a situation where fleeing may be the best option for immediate self-preservation, but the worst long-term outcome, I fall back on this training.
    I am the reincarnation of Emerson! In a passage of his essay, “The American Scholar” he greatly touches upon an outlook that I have had on education system for a long time. He wrote, “Hence, instead of Man Thinking, we have the bookworm. Hence, the book-learned class, who value books, as such; not as related to nature and the human constitution, but as making a sort of Third Estate with the world and the soul. Hence, the restorers of readings, the emendators, the bibliomaniacs of all degrees. Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the one end, which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire… The one thing in the world, of value, is the active soul. This every man is entitled to; this every man contains within him, although, in almost all men, obstructed, and as yet unborn. The soul active sees absolute truth; and utters truth, or creates…” I have personally thought, and seen many times in work experiences, that we place to much emphasis, and trust into those which are deemed to be “book-smart.” Emerson points out in this passage that books are important, but are not the end all to knowledge.

    • Mark

      Superb reflections on both texts Dan. You pick two profound quotes from Emerson and discuss them exceptionally well. Emerson would love your line that you’ve essentially absorbed and become him via the martial arts. He actually had a profound interest in Eastern philosophy as you’ve picked up on. There’s a great final paper here!

  10. Jannatul Fateha

    Ralph Waldo Emerson said in Self-Reliance, “Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind”. “Self-reliance” is the ability to depend on yourself to get things done and to meet your own needs. “Thinking independently” could be an example of self-reliance. However, if you want to improve your thought process, be more successful, and be happier you are going to have to battle with that mind of yours. In our life, change doesn’t come naturally, and you are going to need to train that brain of yours to turn any negative thoughts around in the other direction. A few years ago, I used to think that my reality was out of my control. I used to think that certain situations happening in life to me were predestined. When in reality, I was creating my future through my thoughts. I didn’t know that thought could have such an impact on my life. Ever since I discovered the control my thoughts can have and what it can do for me positively or negatively, my life hasn’t been the same as before.

    In “The American Scholar” a quote that stood out to me was “Books are the best of things, well used; abused, among the worst. What is the right use? What is the one end which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire.” Emerson applies much of his attention to the influence of books. We all need in our life inspiration. He states that books pose dangers to readers although we gain knowledge of the past. He questions if it does benefit us by showing us a picture into the past but posture a great danger, what is the real use of books? As a student, we are so absorbed in reading chapters in time for the next lecture class without fully enjoying the subject. Our priority is to get a general understanding of the text for the purpose of doing well in our exams. We would learn the material but as Emerson mentioned, we would not think anything beyond what is presented within the printed pages. In fact, books are just there to inspire if the genius remains stuck with the concepts that it projects and is prohibited to explore new ideas of their own. Thus, Emerson suggests books should only be a resort to true scholars if they are unable to use their minds and implement it creatively.

    • Mark

      Terrific responses to both readings Jannatul. I particularly like how you embrace Emerson’s approach to independent, creative thinking in your own writing:

      “Thus, Emerson suggests books should only be a resort to true scholars if they are unable to use their minds and implement it creatively.”

  11. chris castellon

    After reading “Self Reliance” by Ralph Emerson, I’ve learned that Emerson’s goal was to reach out to others that we must rely on ourselves and not too much to others because we won’t be able to learn or make our own decisions if we keep getting spoon fed. Nowadays society has technology that is able to assist us in learning certain techniques or problems, but most citizens mostly use technology to entertain themselves for their own needs. For example they spend too much time on social media and do not focus on practicing on interacting with others, their dream on working for their future careers, or practicing on certain workmen ship skills. One quote that peaked my interest but I believe others were interested as well was; “The voyage of the best ship is a zig zag line of a hundred tacks”. In my opinion the meaning of this quote is if you want something or trying to achieve something you must show great hard work men ship to earn it and there are no short cuts which can sometimes come at a price. Another quote that has peaked my interest from another story is called “The American Scholar”, it states; “Books are the best of things well used; abused, among the worst, what is the right use? What is the one end which all means go to effect? They are for nothing but to inspire”. I’m probably not the only one who likes this quote but in my opinion books are the best thing to be used for as helpful tools. In my experience I can tell you that some books can give you more information than a computer or an iphone can’t. Another reason is you must not always spend your entire day or night on your mobile devices because it can disconnect you from reality.

    • Mark

      Very thoughtful response Chris. I really like your point about how social media and technology generally both tend to lead us to be less self-reliant and more dependent on what others think. Terrific example.

    • Mark

      Very thoughtful response Chris. I really like your point about how social media and technology generally both tend to lead us to be less self-reliant and more dependent on what others think. Terrific example.

  12. Franchesca O

    Week 11: Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Reading the article ” Self Reliance” by Ralph Waldo one of the quotes that stood out to me the most was ” as a boy whistles to keep his courage up. So is the danger a danger still; so is the fear worse. Manlike let him turn and face it. Let him look into its eye and search its nature, inspect its origin, — see the whelping of this lion, — which lies no great way back; he will then find in himself a perfect comprehension of its nature and extent; he will have made his hands meet on the other side.” In which in my eyes the meaning of this quote is that throughout society we are forced upon our selfs is that when human kind is encountered with a hard situations, we are brought to postion our selfs in a fight or flight situation. For instance, growing up we are all supposed to attend school so throughout elementary, middle school, and high school we are all taught the same things. Rather then teaching us how to work on our fears, and teaching us how to manage the real world with our “young minds” the system teaches us about reading articles etc… Things that does not teach us how to survive in the real world.

  13. Amoy Russell-Jonas

    In the present day world, the use of technology has got to the new height that it now becomes a threat rather than an aid to humanity. For instance, people nowadays trust the use of the internet and machines to do some task, then they trust their abilities to do tasks without technology. In schools, students now rely on their calculators to calculate 20 + 20 questions. This example illustrates how badly technology has handicapped human thinking abilities.
    In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “Self Reliance,” he tells the readers, “Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” Based on this quotation, Emerson suggests that one ought to believe in them and acknowledge that everyone is unique, and that is how it should be. Overreliance on technology hinders creativity and innovation because people are afraid to think for themselves.
    According to this excerpt, we should use technology to supplement thinking but not do our tasks. We should instead read books, ask people how to do it, and do it by ourselves. Instead of just accepting the technology the way it is, we should also try to do things our way and avoid a copy-pasting lifestyle.
    Emerson further strengthens his message about self-independence in his article “The American Scholar” when he says, “To the young mind, everything is individual, stands by itself.” This bit points out that every mind is charged with the sole duty of thinking, not depending on others to think for it instead. The mind referred to here is people’s minds. We should believe in ourselves and stand independently in our decisions before we can cheaply adopt other people’s ideas.
    This quote is relevant in today’s contemporary world because people often mess during the electioneering periods because they rely more on what people say about the political candidates at the expense of thinking for themselves. People also choose fashion based on who they saw instead of coming up with their unique thought fashion.

  14. Daniela Martinez

    Response to “The American Scholar” (1837) by Ralph Waldo Emerson

    One quote that I liked reading in “The American Scholar” was, “Fear always springs from ignorance.” We are currently living by the wrong decisions that president Donald Trump took as a preventing method of COVID-19. “I wanted to always play it down, I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump said in an interview on September 9th with Bob Woodward. His fear and ignorance made American’s living chaotic than it was before. For instance, when the pandemic just started, many people panicked that they began to buy many paper rolls. People’s hysteria became a funny talk on social media since paper rolls will do nothing against the virus. Also, it made no sense why American people prioritize that over necessary sources like food or water. All of that was the result of the ignorance they heard from President Donald Trump.

    Furthermore, news has mentioned that a new wave of cases of COVID which have alerted many people again. People’s ignorance will not stop overnight, so there have been reports of Americans buying paper rolls. If the situation could not get worse, fear is making people go insane and not following rules. Therefore, we still have not managed COVID as the rest of the nations around the world.

    Response to the Self-Reliance: The Complete Essay

    When I was reading the passage, “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think.” I was thinking of my latest experiences with my relatives. My dream, since I was a kid, has always been to become a doctor. My family (I only include my grandparents, my mom, and my siblings) knew that doctor was the career I have always wanted to pursue. Nevertheless, my relatives from my mom’s side did not know that, and when they had the chance to talk to me about my plans, I thought about what Emerson said. “Why should I care about what my relatives are saying? What matters is what I want for me,” those were my thoughts every time they had advisements for me.

    Another example would be when I started to apply for college. Everyone recommended me to apply for scholarships, and in fact, I did. However, I also was advised to seek jobs to gain experience in the workplace. There are many people capable of studying and working simultaneously, but I knew that I would not be able to do that. I accepted that people’s opinion of how they were doing with their lives would not help me in any sense. At some point, I wanted to be ambitious like my friends or any classmate I met, but I had different priorities than the rest.

  15. Afshan S (Lil B)

    Self-Reliance
    Ralph Waldo Emerson starts “Self-Reliance” (1841) by saying that “To believe your own thought, believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, – that is genius.” What Emerson means by genius is one’s art, and writes that when we witness genius, we “recognize our own rejected thoughts: they come back to us with a certain alienated majesty.” There are many times in our lives when we think “I could’ve done that,” or “I was thinking of doing the same thing,” and that is often times the result of being led astray from making the our own decisions and thoughts because we have so much self-doubt or are too terrified of the consequences of speaking our truth. Emerson writes that “Envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide,” speaking to the idea that to be a man is to be a nonconformist, and that society at its very core is conspiring against man to force them into envy, imitation, and conformity, which to Emerson is the equivalent of death. It seems a bit extreme, but I think Emerson is completely right. I don’t think Emerson speaks about breaking actual laws that do actual harm, but rather he’s pushing out the idea that we should not be restricted to societal laws, the unwritten laws that dictate our everyday actions. One part that I appreciate Emerson bringing up is that “our arts, our occupations, our marriages, our religion, we have not chosen, but society has chosen for us.” What Emerson is trying to say is that in order for society to progress, on an individual level, we should make follow our hearts and not what we’ve been told, that is how we will find our “genius,”

    Little Women
    In the video accompanied by the essay, Emerson is considered to be the father of American literature because of his desire for America to make its own cultural traditions, and that Americans should break away from trying to continue cultural traditions from other countries. Ideas that Emerson brings up are individualism, and that man are nature are one, and that everyone is a significant human being. I think it’s still apparent that Emerson’s words have shaped American art today, almost 200 years after the fact, especially after watching the 2019 film “Little Women.” Most of the females in the movie are atypical, but two of the female characters in the movie, Jo and Amy, don’t conform to societal norms, especially Jo and Amy, doing anything they can to find their “genius.” Jo is trying to be a writer at a time where women are not really meant to do anything literary, and is paid way less than her male counterparts (in the beginning of the movie, the publisher says “I usually pay 25-30, I’ll pay 20,” and Jo accepts, just because she’s happy to even be considered.), while Amy is trying to make a name for herself by painting fine art, but is unable to break through at a time where men are the main creators and curators of art. I wasn’t incredibly satisfied with the ending of the movie, where Jo marries the one person who said her work was garbage, and seems to have no real romantic interest in them, and Amy marries Laurie, despite Laurie being very antagonistic towards both of them, and doesn’t support their pursuit of genius. It felt like the author “gave up,” because like the publisher said, “no one’s going to buy this unless she gets married,” and despite knowing that, the author chose to end the movie by showing Jo making the school she envisioned, teaching to both boys and girls, hoping that the next generation of people will not have to suffer the same fate as her, and will be able to pursue their genius with less restrictions. I like the ending because it’s hopeful, and is understanding that at the time it was written, there weren’t many options available for women to express their genius, or to make money from it. One memorable line comes from the movie is when Amy tells this to Laurie after she realizes that she might not be a famous artist afterall:
    Talent isn’t genius, and no amount of energy can make it so. I want to be great, or nothing. I won’t be a common-place dauber, so I don’t intend to try anymore.
    LAURIE What women are allowed into the club of geniuses anyway? AMY The Brontes? LAURIE That’s it? AMY I think so. LAURIE And who always declares genius? AMY Well, men, I suppose.
    There’s a lot of moments like this in the movie, and I’m glad to have watched it because it embodies the basis of a lot of gender-based problems that society still suffers from today.

    The American Scholar
    Emerson believes that the American scholar must follow three things: books, nature, and action. Emerson finds that books are noble, but are only meant for inspiration, not for stagnation; for appreciation and not for worship. Emerson also believes that scholars should look to nature to make connections, and to find inspiration from it. And scholars should act, otherwise their education is ornamental, and not substantive. I found both of these writings incredibly interesting, especially the fact that Emerson pushed for America to make its own cultural norms, and that he had these great ideas on what the American scholar should do to make more progress in American culture. I don’t think I learned about him in high school, so it’s nice to finally see what works he inspired, and continues to inspire.

  16. jawad awada

    In today’s world we live as individuals who care way too much about how society views us. That can be a very dangerous thing and because of that we might end up making choices that will ultimately harm us in the long run just to satisfy the people around us for just a short term. Making your own choices is far from easy but it is also something that must be made that feels right to you and not how other people will view those choices. Emerson in “Self-Reliance” heavily pushes the thought that individuals must fade away from society and put more focus on themselves. Just because “everyone” happens to be doing something very similar that does not mean that you should follow what they do because everyone is different. Life is far from easy and there are many obstacles that every individual is going to come across and it is in our best interest to respond to those obstacles in a manner we feel like is right and not how society views it. There were many quotes that I felt like had a very important meaning but the one that stood out to me was “The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tracks”. The reason why I picked this quote is because it is saying that every road has its challenges and nothing can be perfect. No matter how hard we try at avoiding any kind of mistakes, somehow they will always find us and it is very important to deal with them based on how you feel like it is the right way. I try extremely hard at trying to avoid making mistakes and there is no question that I have made way too many, but slowly learning how to deal with them has made me a much more mature/complete individual. Caring about what other people might think is something that must not play a role in your life because honestly there is no reason for it.

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