The American Scholar (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

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Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar”

In "The American Scholar," Ralph Waldo Emerson characterizes the nature of the American scholar in three categories: nature, books, and action. The scholar is one who nature mystifies, because one must be engrossed with nature before he can appreciate it. In nature, man learns to tie things together; trees sprout from roots, leaves grow on trees, and so on. Man learns how to classify the things in nature- which simplifies things in his mind (section I). Books, to the scholar, should only be used as a link to gathering information about the past. For these books do not give a definite factual account of the past; they provide information for man to form his own opinions. These books were written by men who already had formulated ideas in their heads spawned by other books. Man must look to these books for inspiration in creating his own thoughts. He must use all the possible resources available to get every side and every opinion out there. When man creates his own thoughts, using every source to aid him in his thinking, only then will the scholar be learned (section II). Although not as important, the scholar must also take action. He must fill each and every moment of the day. The scholar should work different jobs and learn new professions. Then he will learn new languages in which to illustrate his thoughts. The scholar should teach his knowledge to men, teach them facts versus appearances. To do this, the scholar must trust himself, never willing to give in to popular opinion. He should never seek money or power, or let either sway his judgment. His actions are a reflection of his character, and "character is higher than intellect" (Section III). Furthermore, the nature of the scholar is the gender of man. Emerson makes a division of the "man thinking" and the woman. He writes, "I have heard it said that the clergy . . . the scholars of their day--are addressed as...
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