Ralph Waldo Emerson is the Top Dog of Transcendentalism. The Godfather. The Big Cheese. The biggest, oldest, most huggable tree in the forest, if you're starting to think like a Transcendentalist. The whole movement got going largely because of his efforts. He was the son of a Unitarian minister who himself became ordained as a Unitarian minister, until he got disgruntled with Unitarianism.
But that doesn't mean he turned his back on the spiritual world. Emerson wanted us to be better in touch with our inner selves, God, and nature. He was instrumental in elaborating some of the most important Transcendentalist concepts in essays and books like "Self-Reliance" and "Nature."
And don't forget, this guy was also a founding member of the Transcendental Club, which was the hub of Transcendentalist thinkers and writers beginning in 1836. Yup, that's where to find Waldo.
In this 1841 essay, Emerson argues that we need to learn to be a lot more individualistic—yep, you guessed it: rely on ourselves. That doesn't just mean cooking our own meals and doing our laundry instead of getting Mom to do it—it's about freeing ourselves from the fetters of social convention and the opinions of others.
Only by following our own individual path and our own inner instinct will we be able to distinguish truth from falsehood and good from evil. And an added bonus is that we'll be much happier for it. Sweet!
Emerson's essay exemplifies the Transcendentalist virtue of individualism. These guys and gals really believed that folks have to think for themselves. And in "Self-Reliance," Emerson shows us exactly why that's so important.
Is it a book? Is it an essay? It's both, naturally! (Har har.) Emerson's, um, book-length essay is all about—yes, guessed again!—the power of nature. And it sure as dandelions isn't just about green grass and blue skies. Nature can actually lead us to God, and to our true selves.
Emerson's essay was way influential (not to mention controversial) when it was first published. So much so that it became one of the founding documents of the Transcendental Club, which was founded the same year. The essay would also have a huge influence on Henry David Thoreau, who read it as an undergrad at Harvard. And the tree began to sprout!
Chew on This
In "Self-Reliance," Emerson advises us to trust ourselves. After all, it's the only way to achieve self-reliance. If all the greats did it, he said, then so can you!
Moving onto "Nature," where Emerson argues that everything is connected. Beauty, he even says (thinking of the sunset sort of beauty), is "one expression for the universe." And you better believe it's an expression that unites us all when we ooh-and-ahh as the sun goes down.
+ All Transcendentalism Essays:
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- Emersons Transcedentalist Beliefs
- An Analysis of Robert Frost's Once by the Pacific
- Henry David Thoreau: The Grat Transcendentalist
- The Benefits of Sin Revealed in Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter
- Essay on Art in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
- Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Ralph Waldo Emerson: A Brief Biography
- The Birthmark
- The Violation of William Blake's Songs of Innocence
- Henry David Thoreau
- American Revolution and Study Guide
- American in the 1790s-1850s Socially, Politically, and Economically
- The Major Works of Thomas Carlyle
- What is Self-Reliance?
- The Last Known Transcendentalist: Eustace Conway
- Biology, Pragmatism and Contradiction
- Edgar Allen Poe: Romanticism’s All-Star Poet
- Trandcendentalism in Zuni and Sioux Tribe
- Gothic Literature and Romantic Literature
- The Works of Emily Dickinson
- Idealism: Personal Philosophy
- Robert Frost: Troubled Romantic
- Henry D. Thoreau's views on nature, society, and man.
- Christopher McCandless: Rebellious, Suicidal Narcissist
- A Brief Biography of Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Ralph Waldo Emerson: Nonconformity, Integrity, and Self-Reliance
- Morality in Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter
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- Reaction to Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Tom's Cabin
- Puritanism: The People, Religion, and Poetry
- Henry David Thoreau and the Power of Non-Violent Resistance
- Chris McCandless’ Similarities to Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Secularization in the United States: The Battle of Scientific Method vs. Religious Practice
- E.E. Cummings: Defender of Individualism and Non-Conformity
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- The Incredible Henry David Thoreau
- The Influence of Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Personal Manifesto Assignment
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- The Dream of the American Renaissance
- Song of Myself and Slant of Light
- Influence of Emerson’s Self-Reliance on Gilman’s Yellow Wall-Paper
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- An Interpretation of Emily Dickinson's Poem I Felt a Funeral, in My Brain
- Henry Thoreau
- Karl Rahner and His Beliefs
- History 201 - Final Exam (Chapters 10, 12, and 14)
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- Transcendentalist Mccandless
- The Political Thinking and Influence of Henry David Thoreau
- Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”
- Analysis of Dead Poets Society: Non-Conformity Changes Lives
- On Wordsworth and Emerson¡¯S Conceptions of Nature
- Environmental Movements in the United States
- The American Renaissance
- Emily Dickinson
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: The Individual Supremacy
- Death in Thanatopsis by William Cullen Bryant
- Critical Analysis of Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson
- Henry David Thoreau
- Loneliness in Works of Emily Dickinson
- Comparing Romanticism in Plymouth Plantation, Birthmark, and Rappaccini's Daughter
- Fuller's Leila
- Biography of Henry David Thoreau
- Eighteenth Century Religious Change in Uncle Tom's Cabin and Moby Dick
- Comparing Emerson's Writings with Whitman's Writings
- The Call of “Bartleby the Scrivener” and “Young Goodman Brown”
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow