Emerson Essay

684 Words 3 Pages
In understanding this quotation, it is absolutely essential to be cognizant of the context in which “Self-Reliance” was written. The philosophical and social movement that Emerson and his contemporaries founded, Transcendentalism, espoused the idea that although America had formally gained political independence, Europeans possessed virtually hegemonic control over the culture of America. Emerson and his contemporaries sought not only to pioneer a uniquely American style of literature, but also to forge a distinct culture and ethos independent from those of Europe. Emerson’s opinion that “imitation is suicide” (533) extends beyond the realm of the individual in that it is relevant to the Transcendentalists’ mission of establishing an …show more content…
Emerson’s societal ideal of democratic individualism is characterized by each citizen “submit[ting] childlike” (534) to fulfill their providential human potential in a collective enterprise called the nation, as an single component of a consensual whole.
Emerson views envy and imitation as antitheses of self-reliance, and self-imposed opponents of freedom. To envy is to be so ignorant of one’s innate human potential that one believes another’s existence is more valid and superior to one’s own. Likewise, imitation is the reliance on another’s perceived superiority. Thus, to imitate is to disavow one’s divinely superintended genius, which Emerson defines as “[The belief in] your own thought, [the belief] that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men” (533). Imitation is the prohibition of one’s freedom to exercise one’s full potential, which can be equated to a slow death of one’s individualism.
Emerson insists that “for better, for worse”(533) the individual must acquiesce to his or her ordained existence rather than imitate someone else in order to be satisfied in life. No gratification, or, in Emerson’s words, “no kernel or nourishing corn” (533) can result from any endeavor except through “toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till” (533). He

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