Ralph Emerson's individualist essay, Self-Reliance, is an open forum of what is necessary to be independent and skeptical of the ideas of others. Emerson seems obsessed with what truly defines the character of a man, but this obsession seems to stem in part from his own example. Emerson's subject matter insists upon individuality, but it is his actual language, specifically his command of pronouns, that suggests a level of group identity. This piece does not only make use of the reflexive I, but also an almost accusatory you and a collective we. Emerson's word selection adds to the sense that in asking the populace to become independent, he is entreating society as a whole to rise against the constraints of conformity. This is the most intriguing contradiction in Self-Reliance; the overarching idea that independence is necessary, but the end result of reliance and trust in the self will be the betterment of all society.
[...] Skip down and Emerson repeats the same idea with himself; law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.” Emerson often cites himself in the essay as example; however by using rather than Ralph Emerson”, identity is left slightly ambiguous. By using first, and then repeating the same ideas while referring to himself, Emerson is speaking both for what he believes, and also what the reader should be thinking while reading. This causes the reader to identify with Emerson, or perhaps to lose sight of identification completely. [...]
[...] His contradictions are glaring, and in the mind of the reader they can not possibly be missed. Emerson's technique of the “disruptive argument” invokes in the reader an amount of skepticism, one of the objectives of the essay itself. “Speak what you think now in hard words, and to-morrow speak what to-morrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said Emerson says, bringing his own already obvious ideology of contradiction to a commanding note. It could be said that in employing contradiction Emerson is cutting identification with the reader. [...]
[...] Here he combines a religious metaphor with a religious cadence of pronouns, and includes a biographical example in which he replied to an adviser at church, “What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within?” Emerson follows this exact pattern with his examples, starting on a large and accessible scale and then narrowing down to a subjective example of personal truth. Or, in reverse, starting on a subjective and personal scale and then entreating society as a whole. [...]
[...] Heath Anthology of American Literature. Pg 1622 Ralph Waldo Emerson. Self-Reliance. Anthology of American Literature. Pg 1623 Ralph Waldo Emerson. Self-Reliance. Anthology of [...]
[...] Emerson's philosophical style develops as format of closely linked fragments: the connection and, in that very capacity, the partial dissociation between the fragments stands for the general philosophical intention: to demonstrate and practice the possibility of choice.” In “Self-Reliance”, Emerson arranges his pronouns in a specific manner in order to help the reader arrive at the “average tendency”: essentially, establishment of a momentary balance between the universal truth and its only possible realization in the shape of fluid personal experience.” By specific arrangements of pronouns, Emerson is able to relate his examples and metaphors in a close or disparate manner, in order to emphasize the importance of personal choice and skepticism or, respectively, to urge the idea of a universal truth. [...]
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