Emerson, Ralph Waldo is an outstanding American writer in the nineteenth century. His work Self-Reliance is an important and influential work which encourages a man to be confident and independent. Through the analysis and research of Emerson and his works, the thesis explores four main ideas in the work, including “The
Confidence” , “The Independence” , “The Personality” , “Showing no Sympathy
to the Poor”, of which “The Confidence” is the core point in this thesis. Based
on the research of the four ideas, the thesis discusses the enlightenments on today’
s society, including the enlightenments on the confident and optimistic attitudes towards life, the promotion of female’s self-reliance, the influence on individuals’
success and a country’s prosperity.
Self-reliance; Emerson; enlightenment
Emerson, Ralph Waldo was one of the most outstanding American writers in the19th century; he experienced much in his whole life. His Self-Reliance is an influential work which deeply attracts many readers. “Believe in Oneself” is the main idea
expressed and analyzed in the work. In Self-Reliance, there exist four kinds of important thoughts. The first kind of thought is “The Confidence”. Emerson advocated
that a man must show his opinion confidently and bravely in spite of different ideas. “The Independence” is the second kind of important thought which is expressed in Self-Reliance. A man should keep himself firmly but not be easily influenced by environment. The third kind of thought is to keep personality, which is closely related to the confidence and the independence. From Emerson’s opinion, a man must
keep his personality and conform to his own principles. “Showing no Sympathy to the
Poor” is the fourth kind of thought in the work. It shows that why the poor are poor is mainly due to their backward thinking. Showing help to this kind of people means doing harm to them. All these ideas in Emerson’s Self-reliance have enlightenments
on today’s society. They help people take confident and optimistic attitudes towards life. These important thoughts enlighten the female to be confident and strive for their social status. Besides, they are crucial for individuals’ success. Each man
who possesses the thoughts is easy to make progress and achieve success. Moreover, a country’s prosperity is established on the basis of confidence and independence.
I. A Brief Introduction to Emerson and His Self-Reliance
A. Emerson, Ralph Waldo
Emerson was one of the most outstanding American writers in the 19th century. He was born in a clergyman’s family in Boston in 1803 and raised by his mother and aunt. America was lively but disordered when he was born. Some people were aware of the appearance of new power, but nobody could express it clearly. He entered Harvard University when he was 14 years old. During this period of time, he read a large numbers of books about Britain romanticism and enriched his thoughts. Three years later, he graduated and became a teacher for two years. In 1826, he entered seminary of Harvard and formally appointed as priest in 1829. However, he resigned 3 years later for two
reasons, that is, he was unsatisfied with the dogma and his wife died of illness. Then he traveled around Europe and got to know some famous writers. He was deeply influenced by romanticism and gradually formed his own transcendentalism. He returned to his country in 1834 and then settled with his second wife in Concord. In the time following, he published Nature that includes almost all his important ideas. From that time on, he made addresses everywhere publicly and gradually became a celebrated scholar in America. Emerson always held a small party with his friends and made discussion about theology, philosophy and sociology. Such kind of party was called transcendentalism club at that time. Naturally, Emerson became the leader of transcendentalism and was responsible for brining transcendentalism to England. Emerson collected all his speech materials and made a book called Essays, including Self-reliance, Love, and Friendship and so on. Emerson’s Essays speaks highly of
the man who should trust their own suggestion. He advocated that a man should develop the national pride and opposed following the others’ saying. Almost all his speeches
made a deep influence on America’s national civilization. In 1837, he published a
famous speech which declared that the American literature was separated from Britain literature. He was also the spokesman of transcendentalism. Emerson abandoned the thought which takes god as the centre. He raised the idea that the man could know the truth by instinct, so to some extent, the man is the god. Then he cried out that ‘Believe in Yourself’. His opinion reflected the advancing spirit of capitalism society. This positive spirit was called as American religion and it pushed the development of national spirit of America. He was the clairvoyant of American spirit and belonged to America, Emerson’s thoughts and works largely promoted the
establishment and development of American national spirit.
Emerson’s works deeply attract readers, especially Self-Reliance, which is from Essays. This prose is finished according to a series of speech materials between 1836 and 1837. Self-Reliance is his significant work which expresses his idea of transcendentalism. “Believe in Yourself” is the core point of Self-Reliance. Emerson
opposed all forms of imitation in the works. He thought the man should believe he was excellent at any time. The real man should learn how to reject to drift with the stream. If a man is afraid of public opinion or compelled him to do something unchanged, he will possibly lose the innovative ability which leads him to success. If a person doesn’t want to let him or the society down, he must comply with the principles in his inner heart, yet the people who comply with the authority, tradition or current system means break this principle. The ideas which Emerson expressed in his prose are largely different. They agreed with the American people’s optimistic spirit at
that time. Above all, he believed in individualism, independence and self-reliance. His works is not easy to be understood. He reconstructed the common literature images in writing skill and endowed the works with new ideas. Generally, the readers have a common view that his ideas are special and unique.
Nowadays, there are many books about self-support. The authors express a series of ideas as Emerson did. The difference is that the common books are easier to be understood. The authors use simple sentences in their works so that all readers can
easily know what the authors express. But Emerson’s Self-reliance is needed to read
many times. He mainly expressed four important ideas in this works, including “The
Confidence”, “The Independence”, “The Personality”, “Showing No Sympathy to
the Poor”. “The confidence” is a core point which Emerson stressed in Self-Reliance. All men should trust their own opinions in spite of the different ideas. Emerson thought a man should trust himself firmly. “The Independence” is another subject
which Self-Reliance fully elaborates. It expresses that a man should act independently but not always relies on the other people. Besides, “Showing no
Sympathy to the Poor” agrees with the idea of self-support. In the works, Emerson gave the opinion that the poor are lack of advancing ideas. The result of supporting the poor is to do harm to them. At last, to be a self-reliant person, the man should keep his personality. These ideas are important in today’s society. This prose exerts
much influence on many ordinary people.
II. The Analysis on Emerson’s Thoughts in Self-Reliance
Self-Reliance is not an average work. Its content is difficult for readers to understand. Emerson showed many of his opinions about life in the work. The most important ideas include “The Confidence”, “The Independence”, “The Personality”,
and “Showing no Sympathy to the Poor”. These ideas are practicable and meaningful
for the reader’s lives.
A. The Confidence
Self-Reliance is one of Emerson’s important works which express his transcendentalism. “Believe in Oneself” is the core point in it. In the works, Emerson showed his opinions about the confidence. He criticized all forms of imitation and opposed all self-abased people. The confidence is an evident idea which Emerson gave in Self-Reliance. He thought that the confidence was a very important virtue. The philosophical idea which he expressed in Self-Reliance had its special power. It enlightened many people and catered to the spirit of optimism in America at that time. Emerson believed a man must trust himself and be himself. Many self-abased people can’t express themselves bravely and are ashamed of their divine ideas just because the ideas are their own. Emerson believed that the man should concern his own points of view and keep them steadfastly. In his opinion: “A man should learn to detect
and watch the gleam of light flashes across his mind from within, more than the luster of the firmament of bards and cages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his.”(Emerson, P7, 2005) From this sentence, it can be acquired that Emerson gave support for expressing one’s own ideas loudly and bravely in spite of
the others’ existence. Emerson’s opinions enlighten a man to keep his original saying in the face of mixed voices. As an individual in society, a man shouldn’t suspect
himself, or the suspicion from the other people will attack him constantly. The person who doesn’t believe in himself will never win the other’s credibility. In Emerson’
s Self-Reliance, It is a little difficult to understand the meaning. However, “Trust
Yourself” is expressed clearly and can be known by readers easily. The author showed the idea that the man should own the spirit of self-confidence and try to be the true himself. For example, Emerson said in Self-reliance: “Let us never bow and apologize
more. A great man is coming to eat at my house, I do not wish to please him; I wish that he should wish to please me”. (Emerson, P20, 2005) On Emerson’s saying, it
is known that he supported the man to be himself generously in spite of the other people’s social status. Once a person comes to the world, he is possible to be the best one. However, many people are generally timid, and they are no longer upright, they are afraid of saying “I think”, but only quote motto. As a matter of fact,
Emerson encouraged the people to express “I think”, “I am” bravely and directly.
These words clearly prove the spirit of self-trust.
There is a popular saying that “if you think you can, you can”. The confidence is
the first step to make success. And Emerson showed the valuable idea in his works. It is believed that the readers are more confident after they finished Self-reliance. B. The Independence
Just as “The Confidence”, “The Independence” is also a significant idea which
Emerson showed in the works. “The Independence” is closely related with the spirit
of self-reliance. The author mentioned “The Independence” everywhere in the works.
Emerson supported the man to be the true himself independently.
Each person should act according to what he thinks. According to Emerson’s original
words: “what I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think”(Emerson,
P15, 2005)，Emerson thought that the people shouldn’t be influenced by the others.
Each one is the first who knows himself much. It is known that the only right is to conform to the man’s own will, namely, the only wrong thing is what is against his own will. Emerson supported that the people insist on carrying themselves in the face of all opposition. The true self-independence is void of other’s encouragement; prize
is just as an auxiliary function for achievements. The true self-independent man is one who still stand firmly when all people fall over, and who himself plays the major role in his world, while all the other persons are supporting roles. Emerson pointed out that it was easy to live after the world’s opinion. Most people prefer to this
in daily lives. But a great man always separates himself from the crowds. Generally speaking, many people are easily influenced by environment. Emerson sharply opposed this idea in Self-Reliance. He thought the man should cultivate the personality of self-independence. Emerson expressed another kind of viewpoint, that is, consistency, which is in large scale a kind of self-trust. He once said: “A
reverence for our past act or word, because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loath to disappoint them”.
(Emerson, P16, 2005) Indeed, a large number of person always cope with their lives in the same way, because they are afraid of being defeated by new methods. However, they are lack of innovation, which makes them lack of self-independence. Because of their consistency, it is very difficult for them to make progress or stride in life. Independence is established on the basis of continuous new progress. Therefore, the spirit of innovation can strengthen self-reliance. Emerson said: “Nature suffers
nothing to remain in her kingdoms which cannot help itself. The genesis and maturation of a planet, its poise and orbit, the bended tree recovering itself from the strong wind, the vital resources of every animal and vegetable, are demonstrations of
self-sufficing, and therefore self-relying soul”. (Emerson, p30, 2005) According
to Emerson’s words, the society refuses the persons without self-reliance. No one can help the man except himself. Those independent people can stand easily and stably. Independence is an indispensable quality for one’s success. Emerson pointed out that
the man without any independent idea is difficult to conduct himself. Therefore, it is very necessary to form the habit of self-reliance.
C. The Personality
In Self-Reliance, Emerson advocated that a man should do everything according to his own will. This thought is closely related with the idea of confidence. A confident man is the one who always keeps his own personality. It is a very important thought which Emerson expressed in the works. It does help the readers to be confident. Nowadays, many people tend to chase fashion and imitate stars. Some people love the stars’ characters deeply and even want to be a star. In fact, these people are excellent in many aspects, but they never look for their merits carefully. It is said in The Best Seller in the World: “I’m the greatest miracle in the nature; no one
is same with me since the god created the world. My head, eyes, ears, hands are distinctive. I’m the uniqueness in the world.”(Og Mandino, p45, 1996) From this
opinion, it is known that each man is different, and each man has his own worth in the world. It is useless to imitate anyone. Emerson suggested the man express their opinions loudly and bravely even if they are wrong. A man should conform to his own principles and live on his way. Emerson said: “No law can be scared to me but that
of my nature. Good and bad are but names very readily transferable to that or this; the only right is what is after my constitution, the only wrong what is against it. A man is to carry himself in the presence of all opposition, as if everything were titular and ephemeral but me.”(Emerson, P10, 2005) From the words, it is evident
that a man should keep himself in spite of the others’ existence. Once the decision
has been made, it is uneasy to change it or give it up. There is a fact that some people are different from before after the environments are changed. It is obvious that these people are influenced by the others and are easy to follow the others’
principles and forget their own. Emerson gave the readers a very typical example: “Infancy conforms to nobody, all conforms to it, so that one baby commonly makes four or fives out of adults who pattle and play to it”. (Emerson, p8, 2005) It shows
that if a man often keeps his own personality, he is able to make the environment different. The man’s inner power is limitless; he is able to change the whole world if he stands on his own feet forever. Emerson always lived in his own world and never mixed with the man whom he did not belong to. He said; “I will not hide my tastes
or aversions, I will so trust that what is deep is holy, that I will do strongly before the sun and moon whatever inly rejoices me, and the heart appoints, if you are noble, I will love you, if you are not, I will not hurt you and myself by hypocritical attentions”. (Emerson, P32, 2005) These points of view are easy to be understood. The core point is that a man should insist that his idea be the best one As a mater of fact, it is the man’s faith, not the environment that influences people’
s lives. A successful man is the one who deeply trusts his inner power. He is never influenced by the environment.
D. Showing no Sympathy to the Poor
In Self-reliance, Emerson fundamentally showed the idea of confidence and independence. Besides these ideas, he illustrated the idea of “Showing no sympathy
to the Poor”. This point of view agrees with the confidence and independence. Emerson indirectly showed the reason why the man is poor and why no sympathy should be showed to the poor.
From Self-Reliance, Emerson never sympathized with the person who had no relation with him. He just did what he should do. He said: “Expect me not to show causes why
I seek or why I exclude company. Then again, do not tell me, as a good man did today, of my obligation to put all poor men in good situations. Are they my poor? I tell your, your foolish philanthropist, that I grudge the dollar, the dime, the cent. I give to such men as do not belong to me and whom I do not belong.”(Emerson, P12,
2005) This point of view shows that if these poor people are self-supported, their living conditions would be better. Helping this kind of people is to do harm to them and make them more and more poor. There is a popular saying: “If one’s pocket is
empty, but idea is full, that’s temporary; on the contrary, if one’s pocket if full,
but idea is empty, that’s also temporary”. At most time, the poor are lack of
independent conducts, optimistic attitudes, and adventurous spirits. They have no innovative abilities, because they never think that they should challenge life and make progress. Therefore, in many aspects, the poor are lagged behind of the society. From Emerson’s opinion, he definitely rejected to help this kind of people. However, sometimes the situation is different, just as Emerson said “There is a class of
persons to whom by all spiritual affinity I am bought and sold, for them I will go to prison.” (Emerson, P12, 2005). This kind of people is the poor in pocket, but they are full of ideas in mind. They have the quality of confidence, of independence, but only lack of materials. Emerson believed that their conditions would be quickly improved through a period of time.
The poor condition is not terrible, but the poor mind is a very serious problem. The man should never help the poor with money, but give them a tool to produce wealth by themselves, or teach them to be independent and challengeable. Emerson’s opinions
towards the poor have given the readers a meaningful enlightenment.
III(Self-Reliance’s Enlightenment on Today’s Society
Self-Reliance gives readers much help in coping with their lives. It exerts enlightenment on readers to be confident and independent. It teaches man to take advancing attitudes towards life. Besides, these ideas enlighten female’s life. It
is also of great help for individuals’ progress and a country’s development.
A. Attitudes towards Life
Self-Reliance profoundly inspires a man to strengthen his self-confidence. A young man said in a forum: “If they are afraid of other’s different suggestion and give
up their own thinking, then that’s losing themselves. No matter what they do, they
should keep definite point of view and independent thinking”.(Smear, P49,2002).He
further explained that everyone’s idea is different, no one can make the others’
the same with he himself, so just think about the objection but neglect the irrelevant
discussion. When the man finishes his aim, all voices have stopped with it. Each man should have his virtue in tacking with all problems.
The attitudes towards life have two choices. One is to die and the other is to live. Emerson’s Self-Reliance teaches the readers to follow their own thoughts and take optimistic attitudes towards life. Everything has two sides, the most important is that which side the man chooses. A man should be confident everyday, and then each day is beautiful and without worry. Emerson showed in his works that each man should be independent to cope with his problems, but not always seek for assistance. The man can learn from the other people, but he should make decisions by himself. Each successful man has his own personality so that he is easy to achieve his dreams. Once a person catches the fundamental idea of self-independence and self-confidence, he can tell which is right or wrong no matter how complicated the interpersonal relation is. Then he is likely to reject to parrot.
B. The Female’s Self-Reliance
It is known that man and woman are born of inequality in human history. No matter how successful the women’s liberation is, this bias will forever occupy people’
s minds. With the development of society, some female people with spirits of self-support fiercely object this thought. Women have their own forte in most time while the men don’t have. It is accepted that women’s social status is highly improved.
According to the investigation, the female officers or managers are highly increased and account a large proportion among the total. Besides this, most women accept more advanced education than the male. However, the prejudice originated from the history seems never to disappear from people’s minds. Some women are still suffering from
the prejudice in such a developed society. In modern society, the women possess so many social protocols. For instance, there is a popular saying that “Ladies First”,
and the national law also safeguards the female’s rights and interests. Someone thinks
the meaning implied in this phenomenon is that the society takes women as the weak, for the people who need protection are to some extent weaker than those who can deal with problems by themselves.
However, although a small part of girls can’t live on their own, most women are aware
of the crisis, and most of them can deal with their lives completely and independently. On Emerson’s views, whether a man or woman is, he/she should depend on themselves except the general assistance from each other. As an important part in human being, women should have their own understanding, their own careers and worlds. Some girls who seek fortune or reliance from men are severely looked down upon by society. Those women seem to lead a perfect life, but their inner hearts are too void. They acknowledge that they are corrupted and forsaken by society. Whereas, they are reluctant to escape from this corrupted living circle once they abandon themselves to it. Moreover, they often search protection, responsibility from men. But most women are advancing in mind. It seems that women take more and more significant roles in a family, even in the society. Most women often support for their families which testifies their high ability.
From Emerson’s ideas in Self-Reliance, all women should own the self-reliance of idea, of economy, and of ability. He advocated the women to strive for the social status and make contributions to the society.
C. The Influence on Individuals
To be a self-independent person can absolutely change one’s humble life even in the
backward society. Generally, the poor people are inclining to be self-reliant for coercion of life. It is well known that the richest man, Li Jiacheng, is the business tycoon in Hong Kong. It is an evident example that the poor man is ambitious and self-improving so that he can become an uncommon person in later time. Another famous person is the head of board of Meng Niu enterprise, Niu Gengsheng. He was sold out for 50 Yuan when he was in infancy not because his parents abandoned him but because they couldn’t raise him. In such kind of living condition, he studied and worked hard to be a successful man. All men are intelligent and brave, but not all men can make success. Some people often complain about destiny. The wise think that success originates from one’s spirit. The genius is only but common people with knowledge and virtue. Helen Keller, the everlasting pride of human being, was deprived of both sight and hearing after the terrible illness in the 19th month after she was born. However, she was not defeated by disastrous life which happened to her in her young age. No one can imagine how a dumb and deaf girl transformed her life thoroughly by her persistent hard work and persevering spirit, yet Helen Keller did it. Her adversity and great achievements stimulates the common people to work hard and to be self-supported. Helen’s remarkable success was partly due to the assistance, Miss Sullivan who accompanied her in the whole life, but largely due to her own persistent and dauntless faith. She learned several languages in her life and created miracles one by one. The very difficulties which cannot be done by common people were broken through by Helen Keller. Her name was set as a symbolization of persistent will. As the tremendous spiritual power, her legendary life deeply encourages the people to conquer the misfortune. Mark Twain said: “Helen Keller was the focus of America in
19th century”. These examples prove that independence and self-support can change one’s life thoroughly.
The valuable ideas which Emerson showed in Self-Reliance are a great help for individuals’ development. These ideas make each one to be confident and independent. Many people’s success is fundamentally due to these two qualities.
D. The Influence on Countries
As the strongest country in the world, America has its own individualities. This country only enjoys a history of 200 years. In comparison with the other European countries, it is full of innovation and has its own personality. The technology, weapons, comprehensive strength are always in the first place. The Americas are realistic. Money is vital in their minds so that all Americans are up to their ears for work. Money can be used for fame, social status, even presidency in this country. They are democratic, liberal, outspoken and competitive. Take the American children for example. They can work to support themselves when they are young and also cope with their problems by themselves without any help from parents. All Americans have formed these habits from early time so that their country is the best self-improvement
among all countries.
Almost every person believes the country should support them with the perfect system so that they can improve their living conditions, but the ideas in Self-Reliance suggest that the high life and well-being can only be acquired through a man’s own
efforts. The people often take a high expectation towards the function of laws. If the laws work well, then they can insure people to enjoy their own achievements and reduce individual sacrifices. However, the best strict law cannot change the sluggish persons to industrious persons or the poor to the rich. These changes can be achieved only through one’s own conducts and activities. The history proved that the power of country is not decided by social system but by people’s qualities and
The spirit of Self-Independence in Emerson’s Self-Reliance promotes a country’s
advancement. The strong and prosperous country is made up of confident and independent individuals. Self-Reliance’s enlightenment effectively helps the progress of
From above, “The Confidence” is the basic thought and the core point in Emerson’
s Self-Reliance. In the work, “The Independence” and “The Personality” are main
ideas. ‘Showing no Sympathy to the Poor” represents “The Confidence” and “The
Independence”. These four ideas largely enlighten many people to form the habits of self-independence. The spirit of self-reliance is the foundation stone of everyone’s success. What’s more, it plays an important role in a country’s prosperity.
The spirit of self-reliance greatly helps the progress of society. There will be more and more readers to research and study Self-Reliance and more and more people would possess the idea of self-reliance in future.
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