“Self-Reliance” By Ralph Waldo Emerson Analysis Sample College Essay

Nineteenth century novelist, Nathaniel Hawthorne had several approaches to express his views on nature. Nature is an element that is widely prominent in Hawthorne’s stories, and specifically for this essay, his short stories, “Young Goodman Brown,” where he analyzes the effects of human nature, and “The Birthmark,” where he speaks about the yearning to alter the natural to fit our standards of beauty, striving for perfection. However, nineteenth century transcendentalist and philosopher, Ralph Waldo Emerson, would argue against Hawthorne’s beliefs in his essay “Self Reliance.” Emerson believed that everyone should follow their inner voice and avoid what is said to be true to find their truth within.

In the short story “Young Goodman Brown,” Hawthorne unveils the weakness of public morality. In the Puritan society where the story is set, it is proved that even as holy as it may appear, there is still corruption that exists there. It’s important to note that Goodman Brown discovered the impurities in the forest. The forest is a representation of the “wild;” an unnatural world that is out there to be discovered. The Puritan world that Brown was accustomed to can be seen as a safe haven that he has been sheltered into. The church refused to enter the forest because the devil was associated with the forest, the enemy of any Christian worshiper. Nevertheless, when the reader follows Goodman Brown into the forsaken forest, we find that people who were considered to be religious and prominent leaders in the community, were in the forbidden forest. What Hawthorne is saying here is that there are two types of nature that we must be aware of, human nature and the natural. The village for him was a sanctuary of rectitude. The deeper he went into the forest, the closer he was to making a covenant with evil. Yet, we see a transformation on his perspective of evil when he recognizes the fellow townspeople. The Puritans are taught how evil can be found in nature, but after identifying people who Goodman Brown considered good, he epiphanized that the nature that he was being warned about wasn’t the one surrounding him, but the one from within.

In Hawthorne’s other short story, “The Birthmark,” we see a conflict on the effects of altering nature with science. Aylmer’s wife Georgiana, is a picture of perfection in his eyes, except for the red birthmark on her cheek. Georgiana is described as an incredible beautiful woman, but the birthmark is naturally there to prevent her from achieving the unattainable, perfection. Aylmer’s fixation and vanity over her birthmark blinds him to realizing the dangers that lie between nature and science. Although religious words weren’t boldly used throughout the story, it was nonetheless very prominent throughout. God does not make mistakes when he creates nature. If you are attempting to change what God made natural, you are making an attempt to change the only thing that is actually perfect, God. Aylmer using science to strive to establish perfection in his wife, is ultimately what results in her death. Perfection isn’t something obtainable on Earth, only in Heaven. What Hawthorne is saying about nature through this short story is to appreciate the imperfections that occur in things that occur naturally, and if that is not followed, that nature around us and the natural in us, will be destroyed.

In “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson, he advises his readers to acknowledge that self-sufficiency is the key to gaining freedom to discover true self and independence. Emerson urges his readers to follow their individualism, rather than conforming to social expectations. For instance, towards the end of the essay, he elucidates how we should alter religious practices, stay at home, and develop our own culture to focus on the self rather than societal progress; conformity is death to a individual. Not only this, but Emerson emphasizes the need to be honest in relationships and follow one’s own voice, rather than the people around you, who might have the same thoughts as you.

It’s no surprise that Hawthorne and Emerson have opposing views when it comes to nature. Goodman Brown, who was portrayed as innocent and naive, was subject to malfeasance. When he makes the decision to go into the forest, he still hides when he hears the minister and sees people from the town. Brown was concerned about how his religion was viewed by society, rather than actually being involved with the Devil when the time came. Emerson would argue that Brown should not have hid in the first place. He made the conscious decision to go in the forest, going against the religion he was accustomed to, and was awakened to the “other.” Because Emerson believed that one should follow their own voice rather than an intermediary’s, he would not agree with Brown’s decision to not only hide, but to continue to satisfy societal norms and act as if nothing happened. According to Emerson, intuition is drawn from universal spirits, and because there is a duality in the spirit and person, he commands us to always follow it. On the other end, Hawthorne would not agree with Emerson’s statement because when he is talking about following your own instinct, he does not specify the type of instinct that you should follow. If that instinct is coming from a dark or demonic place, Emerson is telling us to follow it.

The spirit affiliated with infancy should be used as a template to be followed to cultivate autonomy. With a Transcendentalist perspective of nature, Emerson implies a linear way of perceiving nature, rather than Emerson’s idea of there being multiple. Infants follow their own direction in finding the world and what they believe to be true. If an infant touches a hot stove and it’s hot, they know not to touch it anymore. Still being new to the world, they tend to put things in their mouths and in their hands to have a feel of what they are and what they make it out to be. Emerson is urging us to be like infants when it comes to the world and nature, while Hawthorne is arguing the opposite. In his examination of nature, Hawthorne abandons Emerson’s Transcendentalist approach to Renaissance peaceful as the most efficient method for understanding the relations between self, nature, and the divine.

What Good Is An Unused Conscience

To live as a person of conscience is a difficult thing when the world wants everyone to travel along the same path and stick to the status quo. One’s conscience is never fully formed, and is always developing with each new day and experience. But, to live as a person with a good conscience is to live according to one’s own laws and morals.

A person who is in touch with their conscience knows to disrupt the peace when necessary. Someone who follows the leader blindly will never get to exercise their conscience. To live a life of staring at someone else’s back while they call the shots, make the plays, run the race, is to live an incomplete life. The task that each person is given when they are born is to not just become another cog in the machine. This task is only completed by the few people that are brave enough to step out of line, even when, as Emerson describes, “For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure”. The men and women that step out of line and stand up for their beliefs should be celebrated instead of punished, but the society that people have lived in and will continue to live in is a society that punishes a person of conscience because people are scared of what they don’t know, and not many people know what it is to stand up for what it is that one believes in. A person that is not a cog in the machine is someone who prioritizes their conscience over going with the flow and taking the easy way. Some people are trapped in themselves and are scared to take any risks against the flow of society, and Emerson scolds that attitude, saying “With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall” (Emerson, page number) Emerson feels as though many people are reluctant to share their greatness, and as a result, are forced into a boredom of life, and a world that is missing out on a significant point of view. If a nobody becomes a somebody, and creates a difference in the world, they are not rewarded, but punished, and so each individual must hide their true selves because of a fear of being caught. As Emily Dickinson describes in her poem, “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” being a somebody in society is not welcomed and to be a somebody is a scary thing. Dickinson portrays the trepidation that could be felt by someone who felt a new idea or a new way by writing: “I’m Nobody! Who are you? / Are you — Nobody — Too? / Then there’s a pair of us! /… How dreary — to be — Somebody!” (74). People are scared to be somebody because they are scared of backlash they can receive because of being somebody different, and somebody that has new ideas.

Having a good conscience means trusting one’s own morality over the laws that the government and society create. Following the law is not always a bad thing, and it can be very dangerous and detrimental to break many laws. That being said, some rules and laws may not seem right to follow. A person with a strong conscience will be able to see that they must follow the laws from within themselves instead of following the law that has been placed on them by society. As Thoreau asks in “Civil Disobedience,” “Can there not be a government in which majorities do not virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience?” What Thoreau is questioning is the rightness of elected leaders deciding what is right and wrong for the people, and each leader claiming to have the people’s best interest in mind. Thoreau asks why the government locks people up for following their own morality instead of the government’s laws, and, referring to his time in jail, describes his thoughts while staring at the cell wall. Thoreau knows that he is more free in his cell than people are outside because of his freedom to follow his conscience and states “I saw that, if there was a wall of stone between me and my townsmen, there was still a more difficult one to climb or break through, before they could get to be as free as I was” (65). The people where he lived were more jailed than he, because he knew he would only follow the laws of his conscience and not the laws imposed on him by the government.

When each person is born they are placed on an assembly line and built piece by piece to fit in the way that society wants. Everyone has the ability to get out of line and be their own person, but not everyone takes the leap of faith into the unknowns of being one’s own self and being different. It is a punishable crime to stand up for a belief, and it is also a crime to stand out in a crowd. The idea of nonconformity has existed for centuries, but people are still afraid to be different, and to be the same is to be normal in society. In “Self Reliance,” Emerson describes the killing of one’s self by becoming yet another cookie cutter person that society wants everyone to be by saying: “envy is ignorance; imitation is suicide”. To covet what another person has is to not know what one has in themself, and not recognize their own abilities, and to imitate is to not exist. When a person becomes the same as another, they might as well be dying, because they are not reaching the possible potential in their lives. A man or woman with a strong conscience knows that they can change their mind if their conscience tells them to do so. Someone with a weak conscience chooses to believe that “the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them”. A person who does not act with their conscience believes that their past actions, if they have pleased people, are what they should live by because they have pleased others in the past. A strong conscience tells a person that even if their actions in the past have been accepted, if they change their mind they can act on it, despite the backlash that may be received. Emerson sees each human being as a possibility for greatness by following their conscience, or as a possibility of yet another person sticking to how society has molded them. He describes how beautiful it is to be different by writing “…but the great man is he who in the midst of a crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude…”. Someone who blends in with a crowd can never be truly happy, as a person who is able to continue their individuality, uninterrupted, in a crowd of people who want them to change themselves.

Someone who lives as a person of conscience is someone that lives with the fact that they weren’t made to be a cookie cutter person, and that they are here to make a difference. A person of conscience knows what it’s like to stand out in a crowd, and be an individual that fights for their own beliefs instead of the beliefs of other people leading a line of imitations. Society isn’t necessarily ready for every person to live my their own morals, but Emerson, Thoreau, and Dickinson call each person to lead a life of independence. Living by one’s conscience is to live not as a cog in a machine, but as a person who values conscience over law, and who knows themselves as an individual, as different and free as possible.

Works Cited

  1. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Self Reliance.” Literature of the United States, 1841.
  2. Dickinson, Emily. “I’m Nobody! Who are you?” Literature of the United States, 1859-1862.
  3. Thoreau, Henry David. “Civil Disobedience.” Literature of the United States, 1849.

Nature And Function Of Humanism In Writings Of Ralph Waldo Emerson And Miguel De Unamuno

In this essay I will explicate what Ralph Waldo Emerson and Miguel de Unamuno independently understand to be the nature and function of humanism. American philosopher, essayist and poet of the early Modern period, Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote an essay titled “Self -Reliance” in 1841. In his essay, Emerson focuses on thinking for yourself as a human and not being a conformist in a society that attempts to force conformonism on its people. Emerson’s intention was to inform his audience to view his bond with nature and God. Emerson’s beliefs had a great impact on American culture, and he influenced individuals to view life in a different perspective, thinking for yourself and making decisions based on your personal desires. Miguel de Unamuno was a Spanish essayist, novelist, poet, playwright and philosopher. In his book “Tragic Sense of life,” Unamuno focuses on the critical task of spiritual anxiety and the significance it has on people to live their life sufficiently and completely. Unamuno’s desire is to sustain one’s personal sincerity by utilizing social conformity, fanaticism, and hypocrisyShould quotes be here?. Both philosophers wanted people to be knowledgeable about the power and control they have over themselves and how they should act accordingly by living their best lives.

Emerson began his essay by presenting a scenario about some great works of art. He believes the displayed artists’ works are portraits of their own natural feelings and thoughts. From this perception, he also believes that people should learn to follow their own instincts. He encourages his audience to trust their own instincts as well. The most important realization any individual can have is trusting themselves above all others. Emerson believes to be genius, you must believe in your own thoughts and to think what you believe is true for all(1). By becoming a genius, he suggests it will lead you to your independence and self-satisfaction. He believes that relying on others instead of using your own understanding is cowardly. He also believes that you should voice your latent conviction as if it is the general sense of all, instead of saying what others think(2). As a human in the world we attempt to please others and often times we sacrifice our personal desires for the sake of other people’s opinions. We can explain this notion, in short, as half expressing ourselves in fear of the opinion of others. Consider a 5 year old child for example; a 5 year old child acts on desires and doesn’t really care what anyone else thinks. Emerson feels that we should all turn back to that state of mind where we don’t care about what other people think. It shouldn’t matter what people think, for a great person is often misunderstood. Don’t think that it is a bad thing to be misunderstood. Sometimes you have an original thought that others simply, may not understand. He says that a great man is a man who proceeds to be himself no matter the environment around him(fir). Great men have always trusted themselves and confided themselves childlike to the genius of their age. He credits Moses, Plato, and Milton because they ignored books and traditions and expressed themselves freely.

Emerson wants us to think for ourselves and disregard no thoughts. He thinks that a human should be able to notice the thoughts in his mind and his thoughts should be cherished. When talking about these thoughts, he describes them as a gleam of light (3). That gleam of light should not go unnoticed for it is a gleam that only you know about, it is your original thoughts. Anyone who truly wants to be themself must be a nonconformist Emerson believes to be a man you should be a nonconformist because if everyone was the same and followed the same rules there would be no change. We as humans should have self reliance as would a nonconformist. By self reliance, which is also the title of his essay means to depend on yourself and your own ideas. Your ideas are original and sacred and you should treat them as so. He thinks we are moved by works of a genius because they are often thoughts that we had before but they were disregarded. We as humans do this pretty often -it’s like second nature. Say you are sitting in your room on your bed and you had this thought about a new strategy that you could use for community outreach and you let it go without writing it down or giving it any other thought. The very next outreach meeting -instead of you proposing the strategy- you thought about someone else who proposed the same thing you were thinking that night in bed. You now have to accept it, and you look at them as if they are genius when you had the same thought, but you didn’t put it to use. This is a prime example of how we as humans disregard our thoughts and then accept them from someone else. Emerson feels that we should treat all of our thoughts sacred, for the mere fact that the thought could make a change in the world. If we feel as if a thought is important we should treat it as it is important no matter the opinions of others.

Emerson claims that acquiescing to public opinion wastes a person’s life. These are opinions from people who most likely don’t know you personally and you dedicate your life to attempting to please them. The time spent attempting to get a good look or an “ok” from the community saps the energy needed in the vital act of creation and distracts us from making any unique contribution to society. Society today can ruin you if you let it. Emerson compares society to joint stock company, in which the price of investment is one’s manhood or independence. It attempts to force conformity on all people. Emerson points out two enemies of the independent thinker: society’s disapproval ,as we have discussed, and one’s own sense of consistency. Trying to remain consistent with past actions and beliefs can hinder one from full expression of an individual’s nature. Having the mistaken idea that consistency is a virtue can prevent trust in oneself. Emerson wonders why people hold onto old beliefs or positions simply because they have taken these positions in the past. This form of action can keep humans away from actually living life. He wants us to follow our own beliefs and desires. It is easy to live in the world with the world’s opinion affecting every decision you make, but a great man will remain independent from solitude at all times.Emerson hopes that people will finally come to understand how ridiculous consistency and conformity are.

In the book, Tragic Sense of Life Unamuno clearly points out the type of man he is discussing. He says that it is the man of flesh and bone, the one who is the subject and the supreme object of philosophy(16). The man who lives life, eats, drinks, and can be seen. He proposes that people say man is said to be a reasoning animal(17). He wonders why he is not described as an affecting, because the difference between us, man, and other animals is feeling rather than reason. Personally, I have seen animals reason on what not to do at a certain moment. Take a cat for example, it knows what battles to choose. If it sees a dog, the cat will most likely run out of fear of knowing dogs and cats don’t get along. From this we can see that the cat has reasoned about his next action when he noticed the dog. Unamuno believes that a man is a affective animal rather than a rational one.

First Unamuno turns to Immanuel Kant, a professor of philosophy at Konigsberg, and shows that while Kant was able to reduce all the traditional proofs of the existence of God in his book Critique of Pure Reason. However, in his book Critique of Practical Reason he does a somersault using the suggestion of the categorical imperative, the immortality of the soul. From that he arrives at the conclusion that the existence of God is come from the immortality of the soul.

In this book, Unamuno shows that he believes to be a man is to be something concrete, unitary, and substantive. The principles of unity and continuity regulates who the man is and who the man is not. Unitary is pertaining to, characterized by or aiming towards the unity or the whole. The principle of unity helps our bodies, actions and intentions to function properly. Without having the principle of unity, we would be insanely strange. For instance, it would be unusual for one foot to go forward and the other one backward. According to Unamuno, a man is more of a man if he takes on unitary actions. In life, we have different purposes that we may follow. Some may just have one, but the ultimate goal is for people to follow their passion and purpose. Continuity is being continuous and connected as a whole. If someone has done a person wrong, they may continue to dwell on that situation, and they will not get over it unless they actually find the strength to let it go. Nonetheless, when someone is reminiscing about a phenomenal time period in their life, they would possibly want to continue in that moment of their life. A man can be changed incredibly, only if he is ready to change and not to continue his lifestyle. Unity and continuity can benefit a person, but only if they choose it that way because no one can force them.

Unamuno believes that we live in memory and by memory, as a man derives himself by reflecting on his past. Everything that we do as humans, is a speculation on our past on what should or could have been done. Also, he asserts that memory is the basis of individual personality, just as tradition is the basis of the collective personality. We as humans should want the memories we make to endure and last so that they may convert to hope. We want to have made the memories of our past and build on it to make our future.

Unamuno believes that personal immortality is the starting point for all philosophy and a problem for all humans, and that everyone longs for their immortality. He asserts that anyone who says they don’t are merely deceiving themselves, for everyone seeks it. The creation of immortality was deemed by God to guide mankind to seek everlasting life. God has the authority of Heaven and Earth and He is like a consciousness to the universe. There are some with teleological feelings which think of the final cause or purpose in nature, but this comes from within the conscious. If consciousness was to happen in a blink of an eye between two eternities, then there would be nothing worse than the continuation of life.

Unamuno gives two points about knowledge. One being, that knowledge is utilized within the service of the need of life and primarily within the service of the instinct of personal preservation. He believes that this is a necessity for us as humans to live, for without certain knowledge we would die. He asserts that it is an aftereffect of the essence of being which comes in the desire for immortality. The other point being, superfluous knowledge, knowledge that may in its turn come to create a new necessity. For example we can say, curiosity. Curiosity only comes operative after the the necessity of knowing for the sake of living is completed. The fact of the matter is that curiosity came from the necessity of knowing in order to live. Knowledge is used in the service of necessity of life and mainly service of the instinct personal survival. Man uses the basic five senses for the sake of living. Parasite, whom live in the intestines of some animals in the nutrive juices that are already prepared for them, don’t have or require to use the five senses that humans do. They just adhere to the animal for the seeing and hearing world is nonexistent to them. This example shows us how knowledge