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Analysis of Transcendentalist Views of Ralph Waldo Emerson in His "Self-reliance"

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Individual progress is galvanized by one’s mentality which cultivates authenticity and rejects imitation. In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance, Transcendentalist principles are a recurring matter which yearn towards individuality within oneself and exhibit the adoption of foreign principles as a lack of possession and loss of sense of self. Furthermore, Emerson’s views oppose division in Christianity and encourage connectedness while labeling institutions and the codification of the truth as not imperative within religion. Through spiritual insight, avoidance of fleeing from innovation and shift of one’s focus from the distant to the present – individuality is manifested and the sacredness of the mind is galvanized. Anti-rationalism and reinforcement of personal conviction are the essence of transcendentalism within Emerson’s literary work.

Duality which stems from dueling between reliance on the external world and self-reliance obstructs unity and worthiness within ourselves and our fortune. Fortune is obtainable and already accessible in our own hands, but it may only be unveiled through deliberate action and self-realization (Emerson 324). As one strays from the crowds, as one strays from common activity and ordinary power – grandness surges within unconventionality. Society will cease to evolve if individuals rely on others for innovation and change, a shift onwards may only be commenced by those who do not fear prevailing by standing alone (Emerson 328).

The resolution for self-discontent may not be found in a multitude, but rather through isolation. As transcendentalist principles view the world fueled by dynamism and interconnection between all beings, one must view oneself as extensively linked with everything else which coexists with oneself. However, ones interconnection with living and inanimate beings doesn’t signify that the external world define us, but rather our grandeur which stems from our self pride fuels this coexistence with others. By abiding to the simple regions of life and obeying one’s intuition, life will flourish in all ways and discontent will no longer be manifested due to conforming to external views and mob mentalities which aim to suppress (Emerson 326). New powers emerge as self-trust flourishes, and one shall not be disheartened when rejection emerges from others. Man was born to shed customs and man was born to be idolized when his mode of living emerges from his depth. In all pursuits, development is halted by the masses and pre-existing ideals which reject the inborn potential emerging from individuals which embrace their innate internal force. An intermediary’s voice should not disrupt individuals from developing their own culture without relying on societal progress.

Societal progress may only emerge when individual progress becomes a focal point to many. Undoubtedly, Emerson and transcendentalists advocate for conscious cultivation of individualism while they are in opposition to misguidedly following other traditional paths since they are more commonly accepted. Conformity equalizes to death according to Emerson, and highly esteeming the individual mind is grand. As Emerson stated “ne te quaesiveris extra” he is urging society as a whole to abide by their own spontaneity, their own truth (Emerson Central). “The whole cry of voices” is exemplary of individuals who lose sight of their own fortune when societal norms and institutions dim their authenticity. Humans will perpetually hold the potential of creating themselves and crafting their individualism but this is only made possible by self-dependency. Equally as important, Emerson delineates God as a force rather than a character or an idea which is organized religion tends to do. This transcendentalist view is the basis for which prayer is judged as selfish and defiant of God’s purpose. God is not viewed as responsive to prayer, but rather he is seen as an omnipotent presence to which one must not beg to or seek for a response from since God is an all knowing force. Emerson rejects prayer as a form of communication since prayer is based on self-seeking purposes. Through prayer, man seeks for “foreign virtue” absent in their current lives, and it leads to a loss of stance of the potency of God as a supernatural power which is miraculous and mediatorial (Emerson 324). Seeking for a situation other than what God provides in present circumstances is rejection and discontent which leads to a vicious succession of dissatisfaction. By dismissing the interconnectedness of God with other beings, humans lack awareness of the fact that God speaks to each soul in different ways and not necessarily by answering prayers.

Lastly, each individual soul’s connection with God should not obstructed by deadening institutions which traditionalize truths and turn them into rules. Within Emerson’s Self-Reliance, a major principle supportedby many transcendentalists is presented which is primarily directed towards institutions who aim to influence one’s altruistic beliefs. Persistence on altruistic beliefs about God is a potent aspect which should not be influenced by religious establishments. God is not heard through commandments, but he is heard through nature and perceived as an energetic force. Emerson’s hostility towards the church is mainly due to its fixation on the material world rather than focusing on heaven (Capper). This was common during the era of transcendentalism since other Europeans also supported the idea that God’s divinity was present in a spiritual form which could not only be perceived through the codification of his truth – the bible for example.

Transcendence may only be possible through acceptance of our own intuitions about God and by not relying on external sources nor the external world. Genuine beliefs begin by abiding to life’s truths, not the truths established by others. Relying on others leads to a lack of progress among society and diminishes one’s connection with the self and God. Men lack support when they’re overly reliant on forms which deviate from the natural occurrences. This does not only apply in religion, but also in relations, professions, and education. Progress in different aspects of life may only be achieved through appreciation of the good and non-adherence to external crowds. Reliance on foreign support must be reversed and man must not fear standing alone (Emerson 328). Inheritance of a trait is not a curse, it is a gift and one must not be ashamed of inborn gifts simply because they do not assimilate to pre-existing standards. Weakness is cultivated when men seek for goodness not in themselves, but from others. The initiation of peace begins from an internal source and it may only expand as we stray from the multitude (Emerson 328).

A multitude might hold strength, but the strength itself holds no effectiveness if is merely an effort to assemble a larger crowd. This effort lacks originality and no truth may emerge from it. Shakespeare, Newton, Bacon, Franklin and Washington were all in absolute possession of the studies and talents they crafted, they had no masters which expanded their growth- they were their own mentors (Emerson 326). These men are exemplary of human potential and the power of self-reliance. Self-expression and uncommon activity in one’s mind enlightens the human collective and it reaches beyond the mortality of succumbing to idolized ideals. One’s demise begins when he fortune in our hands and the grandness within our brains becomes a reason to be plunged in self-doubt. Emerson opposes self-escape which may be possible by travelling, since when one flees from actuality to modify an emotional state, the emotional state remains the same and it may not be escaped. Emotional tormentation must be addressed directly to completely abolish it, travelling and physical getaway will not transmute into emotional healing. Travelling to solve emotional chaos is foolish and desire of intoxication with sights does not eradicate the “giant” within oneself causing the sadness. Intellectual action is influenced by the emotional state and a major factor which composes transcendentalist views is achieving peace through truth not by escaping from chaos. Man perpetually remains as his one and only sourceof healing and consonance. An honest soul renders light and is prolific not only intellectually, but spiritually.

In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Self-Reliance, several societal flaws are alluded to and evidently, self-reliance allows men to vanquish the distant, the foreign and the past which all serve to cease full awareness. An altruistic desire to express one’s authentic self and the exhibition of an unmodified version of self transmutes into peace. Adopting foreign principles only results in a loss of self and lack of possession in differing aspects of one’s life. Emerson encourages connectedness within all beings and opposes institutions and governments due to their disruption of this unification between all animate and inanimate beings coexisting. The manifestation of individuality and a shift in disposition further stimulates the mind and honors everyone’s individual capacities to transcend. Undoubtedly, Emerson’s literary work is fully supportive of self-reliance while it opposes rationalism.

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