My Analysis of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Essay “Self-Reliance”

Length: 11 Pages 2741 Words

“Every man for himself.” Although simple in context, this expression encompasses a rather complicated topic. Throughout the history of America, the debate over whether an individual can survive dependent on his or her own competence has resulted in much controversy and contradiction. When the Puritans separated from England, they were criticized for thinking they could establish their own country. The Puritans, however, overcame adversity and introduced America to the world, one colony at a time. They proved to humanity, that united and with God directing their paths, they could do anything. Early in the nineteenth century, Ralph Waldo Emerson, a respected writer and philosopher, termed this issue as self-reliance. This phrase simply emphasizes the reliance on one’s own efforts, skills and capabilities for survival (Patterson 1). Emerson was born in Boston on May 25th, 1803. At a young age he and his siblings lost their father and were raised by their single mother. He studied in public schools, boardinghouses, and finally at Harvard he obtained a teaching degree. As a result of his failure to be a successful schoolmaster, and of a great religious experience, Emerson grew in his Christian faith and became a pre Continue...


Emerson felt that reliance on government indicated a lack of self-reliance. This emphasizes the saying, "Everything happens for a reason. Emerson thought that our loved ones should accept us as we are, and that this would make us happier. If we, in our ignorance, constantly depend on and listen to others and fail to see the potential in ourselves, nothing would get accomplished. In addition, Emerson encouraged people to find direction and meaning in life, not by following a book of rules, but by relaxing and experiencing things for themselves. He believed that we could speak to God directly without the need for a priest to hear our confession. When things are given partial attention, not only does the fact remain that we know we could have done better, but also the melancholy we now bear can grow and result in more serious consequences. He advocated expressing our individuality and uniqueness to set ourselves apart from the crowd. If we put our faith in people who wouldn't even think twice before backstabbing us if it were to their advantage, then we would lead our lives being naive. This conflicted with the Catholic religion because it contradicted one of the customs that they practiced. The continuous timelessness of this quote is as much in effect today as it was when the essay was first published. Not to misconstrue Emerson's belief, though, it is important to point out that he had no objection to traveling when it involved education, art, or something that would benefit our souls or humanity. The death of his wife opened the door to skepticism, and in 1832 he resigned his position at the church.