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SelfReliance is an essay that was originally authored by Ralph WaldoEmerson, and published initially in 1841 in the “Essays.” It waspublished again in 1841 in a revised edition of “Essays(” Self reliance was an article that was somewhatwritten throughout the authors Life. Emerson usually recorded histhoughts and ideas in journals and dairies which then became theprimary source of his articles. As a lecturer, Emerson also drew someof his ideas from the lectures he had given in his career from 1836 –1839 ( Self Reliance begins with three epigraphsthey stress on the need and importance of depending on oneself forguidance and knowledge. Though Emerson did not include the threeepigraphs in the revised version of his article, other editors haverestored them (

Theessay is not subdivided into chapters or headings. However it isobservable that the author had intended to drive three major points.The main ideas can be used to divide the essay into three: Howimportant self reliance is (paragraphs 1-17) the relationshipbetween the individual and self reliance (paragraph 18-32) andsociety and self reliance (paragraphs 33-50). Throughout the essay,Emerson presents self reliance as a virtue and an ideal and contraststhe concept of self reliance to other various ways of conformity anddependence.

Emersonstarts his essay by underlining the importance of individual thinkingrather than one conforming to the thought and ideologies of others.He champions individual knowledge as opposed to the knowledgeobtained from books (Emerson 1). He asserts that being genius isbelieving that what is true in an individual heart is true for allmankind. Emerson advances his thesis by teaching further, thatconforming to what other people think is an act of cowardice that ischaracterized by the lack of hope and inspiration. In the firstsection, Emerson talks strongly to the individual. He explains that aperson with high self esteem is childlike and exhibits originalityoriginality that is not corrupted by selfish gains but is rathermature and well thought of (Emerson 2). At this point, Emersonadvises his audience to join the adventure of being part creation andto bring order in areas where chaos exists.

Emersonthen turns to addressing his audience on how they ought to resist anddesist from bowing to the pressure of the society. He expressesradical sentiment that he is not obliged to conform to what otherpeople think but rather his nature is the determinants of his deeds(Emerson 3). His actions could only be termed as good when they arein line with his personal nature and they could only be viewed asevil when they are against his individual nature – not any otherconstitution. He believes that it is better to hold truly to an evilway of life than to cling on the correctness that is demanded by anexternal force such as the society or other conventions.

Emersonthen identifies the two major enemies to individual thinking: scornor disapproval from the society and an individual’s personal senseof consistency. He explains that it takes a very strong individual tostand the scorn of a whole society. Emerson observes that thegreatest people in history were scorned and their ideologies scrappedby the societies in which they dwelt. However, they emerge as heroesin the very end. Emerson cites the examples of Jesus Christ, Newton,Plato, Pythagoras, among others (Emerson 5).

Inthe second part, Emerson offers more suggestions and recommendationsto those individuals who want to exercise self reliance. He beginswith asserting that man ought to be aware of his worth as well askeep things under his feet (Anastas). Emerson strongly critiques thepeople’s belief of measuring their worth with material objects. Hecites heroic works of art, huge buildings and expensive booksclaiming that man is usually intimidate and made to feel inferior bysuch objects (Emerson 18). He claims that the feeling of inferiorityand intimidation is wrong. He sarcastically suggests that it is manwho is supposed to determine the how much objects are worth and notthe other way round (Anastas). Emerson goes ahead to critique royaltyand is opposed to the idea that people only praise the heroic deedsof well-known people, forgetting those of the humble ones.

Emersonthen offers a solution to the problems of consistency, conformity,and commonality. He explains that instinct or spontaneity is theessence of life, virtue, and genius (Emerson 27). He relatesintuition to the soul but then finds it hard to explain whence itcomes from. However, he asserts that intuition is the only truth asany other knowledge is acquired from mere tuition (Emerson 27).

Inthe final part of his essay, Emerson, after describing self reliancein depth, explores the benefits that self reliance would have on thesociety. He examines the contemporary society and realizes that themorality of self reliance ought to be enacted. He goes ahead tocriticize his fellow countrymen for having become blind followers ofdoctrines and ideologies as opposed to being original and selfreliant thinkers (Emerson 34). He condemns how much the youngeducated people have become timid as they fear to fail. Their fearsubjects them to conformity, consistency and commonality.


Anastas,Benjamin. `The Foul Reign Of Emerson’S ‘Self-Reliance’` N.p., 2011. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.,.`Ralph Waldo Emerson Biography`. N.p., 2012. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.

Emerson,Ralph. `The American Scholar Self-Reliance. Compensation`.Goodreads, 2012. Web. 7 Dec. 2014.