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Emerson's Individualism

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Emerson's Individualism

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  • March 9, 2004
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Emerson's Individualism

Throughout literary history, Ralph Waldo Emerson has been considered one of the most influential writers of American Individualism. Emerson defines individualism as man's ability to think for himself and to not rely on the past to direct his life. Emerson's essay, "Self-Reliance", is based on this idea of individualism. In this essay, he expresses his disdain for man's dependence on traditional society. Throughout "Self-Reliance", Emerson stresses the importance of nonconformity, freedom of thought, and individuality.

Emerson's view of individuality begins with man thinking for himself and being his own person. He believes American society stresses conformity. Emerson believes one of the two major barriers to individuality is conformity. Emerson says, "Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater"(552). Society wants to control the individual and wants everyone to be alike. Society wants to impose rules, laws, and government on its people so they can be puppet like. Emerson says that man must overcome this desire to conform, be his own person, and rely on his own internal instincts. Emerson goes on to say that what society is really after is conformity. He says, "The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion"(552). Society wants everyone to conform to the way it wants it to be, whereas self-reliance wants man to be a unique individual and express his own thoughts with confidence. Emerson says, "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"(554). He is saying it is easy to follow the world's opinion and be a conformist. It is also easy...