Summary of “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson

He uses “men” and “mankind” referring to the whole existing humanity and gives a number of examples of great individuals who exhibited self-reliance and achieved success in their lives. This became the base of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s work – “Self- Reliance”.

He begins his work by defining genius as – “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius.’’ He further writes that the almighty has made each person unique and each educated person realizes that ignorance is envy. He says that the people must seek loneliness for themselves to listen to this genius and to trust oneself and to hear and act on the voice of God. He adds, “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius.”

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He further gives instances of people who have trusted themselves and have finally achieved success. These include Moses, Plato and Milton. He goes on further to write that an individual is discouraged only by two sources, the first one being the society and the second being the foolish consistency. He criticizes the society harshly calling it “a conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.” Focusing on foolish consistency Emerson describes it as – “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.’’ To support his view he urges that “The voyage of the best ship is a zigzag line of a hundred tacks.’’ He also says that one must be true not to what was done yesterday but he must be true to the right track and he would surely achieve his goal.

He ends the essay by writing about self-worth. He states “man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say ‘I think,’ ‘I am,’ but quotes some saint or sage.” He says that the people who believe in the saying – “trust thyself” must value themselves, never underestimate themselves and consider themselves equal to the great men of history.

Throughout his essay, Emerson argues against behaving in a socially acceptable manner and trusting oneself.


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