DOUGLASS AND EMERSON What is Self-Reliance?

Topics: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Slavery in the United States, Frederick Douglass Pages: 5 (1800 words) Published: March 3, 2014
October 19, 2010
English 3773 – American Literature to 1800
Dr. Prus
DOUGLASS AND EMERSON
What is Self-Reliance?
How does Ralph Waldo Emerson use self-reliance? How does it relate to Frederick Douglass’ Narrative? These are some interesting questions and they will be carefully reviewed. Emerson’s use of self-reliance may have many different interpretations for others that read it, but his possible intentions of its use will be the primary focus. Douglass’ Narrative might be seen as a fulfillment of Emerson’s Self-Reliance. These two epics are interesting and engaging of their own volition so looking at the two of them together will hopefully help answer some of the lingering questions that may have been left unanswered in the past and at the same time raise some new questions.

First, let us look at what Emerson meant by self-reliance. It could be that he meant our reliance on ourselves as individuals, but after careful reading of the text he probably meant that we should not conform to the ways of the world and instead look for our own way. How do we go about doing that? Well one way might be to first examine the world around us and see what works and what does not work. It could help us determine how to go about making good decisions for ourselves.

One view that Emerson possibly holds according to a comment by George Kateb, in an article by T. Gregory Garvey, is “Emerson, ‘inclines to the view that a contemplative mind can be more truly self-reliant than a person striving for self-reliance in the world. With an independent mind, one can see and know, observe and trace the intricacy and complexity of the world. This mental process more nearly reaches self-reliance than being and acting individualistically do’ ” (Garvey 7). This is one possible interpretation of what Emerson may have meant and what he might have meant could be seen as similar to the previous statement that indicated we should look at the world around us to see what works and what does not work. By critically reviewing the world around us it can bring some sense and new revelations to what Emerson is trying to tell us.

A different and at the same time interesting view according to Mimosa Stephenson and Will Stephenson is that Emerson may have seen self-reliance as “an instinct for self-trust” and looks at it from a scientific point of view and compares it to the way a scientist may view a star as fascinating, but still unexplainable as to the origin of where it came from and how it came to be (M. Stephenson and W. Stephenson 1). This is an interesting way to look at self-reliance especially with regards to not really having a way to verify the origin of where the idea came from. This poses new questions with no real answers. It is one of the interesting mysteries of life that can be debated by critics and scholars alike. Each critic and scholar will have a different point of view that he or she will see as valuable.

A similar view according to David Jacobson in his critical essay on Emerson’s Self-Reliance states that “self-reliance leads to an emancipation of the will, allowing for a clearer understanding of the universe” (Jacobson 1). The key words here are allowing for a clearer understanding of the universe. Again, it seems that there is an implied understanding that one has to critically review what is going on in the world and the people that live in it and how we allow them to affect our daily lives. This might be close to what Emerson was trying to convey in his text. Some critics or scholars might disagree with this information, but each new article that has been reviewed seems to be leading in the same direction. This view could just as likely be an answer to some unanswered questions as any other information that has been reviewed or studied. It may also raise some more new questions. But that is the interesting twist in any text or story it is based on someone’s opinion or idea about a particular...

Cited: Page
Douglass, Frederick. "Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, An American Slave, Written by Himself. Vol 141." Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Russel Whitaker. (Detroit: Gale, 2004. Gale Resource Center).
Garvey, T. Gregory. "Emerson and Self-Reliance." College Literature. 25.1 (Winter 1998): 261. Gale Resource Literature.
Jacobson, David. "Vision 's Imperative: 'Self-Reliance ' and the Command to See Things As They Are ." Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. (Winter 1990): Studies in Romanticism 29.4 : p555-570.
Levernier, James A. "Frederick Douglass: Overview." Reference Guide to American Literature. Ed. Jim Kamp. 3rd ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. (1994. Gale Resource Center).
Rothenberg, Kelly. "Frederick Douglass ' Narrative and the Subtext of Folklore." Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Russel Whitaker. Vol. 141. (Detroit: Gale, 2004.): Griot 14.1 (Spring 1995): p48-53. Gale Resource Center.
Sekora, John. "The Frederick Douglass Papers, Series One: Speeches, Debates, and Interviews." African American Review. 28.3 (Fall 1994): p473. Gale Resource Center.
Stephenson, Mimosa Stephenson and Will. "Emerson 's Self-Reliance." The Explicator. 53.2 (Winter 1995): 81. Gale Resource Center.
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