Emerson Thoreau and Individualism in Society

Topics: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Civil disobedience Pages: 4 (1365 words) Published: May 16, 2006
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau are still considered two of the most influential writers of their time. Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was a lecturer, essayist, and poet, Henry David Thoreau is his student, who was also a great essayist and critics. Both men extensively studied and embraced nature, and both men encouraged and practiced individualism and nonconformity. In Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay "Self Reliance" and Henry David Thoreau's book "Walden" and essay "Resistance to Civil Government ("Civil Disobedience")", both thinkers speak about being individual and what reforms and changes need to be made in society. Thoreau stayed with Emerson for a while and was affected by his ideas, especially relating to the individual and society. Emerson's idea that in society the heart and power of man is drawn out and ignored, which makes people afraid of expressing their own ideas as well as being afraid of truth, led Thoreau to think that: I think that we may safely trust a good deal more than we do. We may waive just so much care of ourselves as we honestly bestow elsewhere. Nature is as well adapted to our weakness as to our strength . . . How vigilant we are! determined not to live by faith if we can avoid it; all the day long on the alert, at night we unwillingly say our prayers and commit ourselves to uncertainties . . . All change is a miracle to contemplate; but it is a miracle which is taking place every instant.(606) Emerson and Thoreau attacked the dominant religious, political, and cultural values of American society in order to make people aware that they are more important than everything is, including government and society. According to Emerson, society is a barrier against the individuality of its members; and he continued: "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. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance...

Cited: Emerson, Ralph Waldo. "Self-Reliance" McQuade 537-554.
McQuade, Donald. The Harper Single Volume American Literature 3rd ed. United States: Longman, 1999.
Thoreau, Henry David. "Resistance to Civil Government ("Civil Disobedience")" McQuade 697-711.
Thoreau, Henry David. "Walden" McQuade 602-696.
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