So I have just finished Self Reliance, and it was interesting. Emerson was basically talking about ways to live. He spoke in great detail about conformity and non-conformity, the importance of youth in today's culture, virtues, and religion. Quite honestly, I found this essay to be extremely redundant. He made all of his points several times throughout. Had he mentioned things less, it would have been easier to read and probably would have interested more people.
Conformity vs. Nonconformity
Around line 119, Emerson begins stating his ideas about conformity and non- conformity. He continues these points through line 160. While he was a bit long winded on this topic, I agreed completely with what he had to say. He mentions, "It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude." It is so easy to conform to what others are doing, and Emerson makes a great point when he says its easier to be an individual in solitude than in a crowd. One look around ECU's campus and conformity is very evident. One will find many girls wearing black yoga pants to class. Do most of these girls take yoga classes? Probably not. However, these pants are comfortable and many people are wearing them, so why wouldn't every girl own a pair? It's conformity. Most people don't argue that but we are conforming to what someone thought was a great idea for going to class wear. (Not saying that I'm arguing with that, because I wear them all the time) Emerson realized this idea and stresses the importance of being your own self. He says in line 153, " but the sour faces of the multitude, like their sweet faces, have no deep cause, but are put on and off as the wind blows and a newspaper directs." Americans take their cues from the media. We rush out to buy what's "in," and we toss what's "out." It takes a strong person to be yourself and not who others want you to be.
Emerson spends quite a while stressing the importance of youth to the reader. He says, "Bashful or Bold, then, he will know how to make us seniors very unnecessary." Emerson knew that the youth he was writing about would one day lead this country and take over the world. I think his hopes were that they would do things their way, and not conform. He mentioned that infancy conforms to nobody. The youth are truly individuals. They always speak their mind, and tell you exactly what they want. (Grocery stores are a fine example of this... I want cookies! Mom I want you to buy me that juice! or there's Look at that lady's ugly shoes!) Children don't know to hold in opinions yet; they are very forward and outward with everything they think.
So I'm pretty sure Emerson was channeling a bit of Ben Franklin when he began talking about virtues. He says virtues are the exception rather than the rule. He talks about it in such a way that when men do good deeds, they almost always expect a handout of some sort. A reward for a job well done. Franklin spent a great deal of time in his autobiography talking about virtues such as temperance and modesty. He was trying to live a certain way, and he didn't always succeed at it.
Religion and God
Religion is a touchy subject for most, not for Emerson. He dove right into Self-Reliance with multiple inferences to God, the "ever-blessed ONE," and the "Almighty efforts." As I was reading, I wondered to myself why were there so many religious undertones in this piece of writing? After a little digging, I found out that Emerson was the son of a Unitarian minister. He attended Harvard Divinity School and was employed as a minister for almost three years. After reading this, I understand moreso. His background is very religious, so it makes complete and total sense that his writing would be full of religous undertones.