Self Reliance as a Liberating Force in Transcendentalist Texts

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How is self-reliance presented as a liberating force for the individual in any two Transcendentalist texts you have studied on the course?

Transcendentalism was a nineteenth century American philosophical and literary movement centered around Ralph Waldo Emerson. Transcendentalism refers to people becoming autonomous and free from the conformity of society, listening to their inner voice in order to fulfill their potential and live life as a free being. The aforementioned Ralph Waldo Emerson, the forefather of the Transcendentalist movement, captured his vision of an autonomous America in his 1841 essay ‘Self Reliance’ where Emerson coined his catch phrase ‘Trust Thyself’, advising people to act on what they believe to be just and neglect any external influence upon their freedom to think and act accordingly. Henry David Thoreau was another Transcendentalist, inspired by the earlier works of Emerson who wrote the politically motivated ‘Civil Disobedience’ which continued the theme of anti conformity and self reliance. Thoreau’s essay called for a ‘role of the individual in society’ and called for people to start doing and acting upon their desires, a sharp contradiction to the more metaphorical essay written by Emerson. Thoreau’s anarchist connotations contained in ‘Civil Disobedience’ portray self reliance as a complete liberating force, not just for the individual but for society as a whole. Both texts emphasise the necessity of self reliance and argue that no person can be truly free or liberated without acting of their own free will.

‘To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart, is true for all men,-that is genius.’[1] Right at the beginning of ‘Self Reliance’ Ralph Waldo Emerson sets forward his argument, the notion that a genius is characterised by acting in a manner that is true to oneself, one who acts only as they please and is not pressurised by the will of others and one who is strongly opinionated and...
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