Ralph Waldo Emerson


Emerson’s writings are full and not always easy to grasp.  To help you understand him, I am assigning excerpts from his three major essays.  I have tried to frame my questions to help you understand as you read. These excerpts will give you an overall idea of Emerson’s philosophy without getting bogged down with too much difficult reading.

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You will find the following quotes in order as you read the assigned pages in Self Reliance.  Comment on each quote, telling what you think Emerson is saying and possibly why he is saying it.  NOTE THISEmerson uses the term’s man / manhood several times in these passages.  What is he saying about being a real man (or woman)?


  1. There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance, that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion; that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground given to him to till.


  1. Trust thyself; every heart vibrates to that iron string.


  1. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.


  1. Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. . . . Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. (Why does he use the word sacred?  Given what you know about transcendentalism, what is the significance of this word choice?)


  1. My life is for itself and not for a spectacle.


  1. A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds . . . . With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. . . . To be great is to be misunderstood.