In his essay “Self-Reliance,” how does Ralph Waldo Emerson specify individualism, and how, in his view, have the right to it influence society?


In “Self-Reliance” Emerson specifies individualism together a profound and also unshakeable trust in one’s very own intuitions. Embracing this check out of individualism, the asserts, have the right to revolutionize society, not v a scan mass movement, but through the transformation of one life in ~ a time and through the production of leaders qualified of greatness.

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Portrait the Ralph Waldo Emerson, 1878


Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”, 1841.

Text Type

Essay, literary nonfiction.

Text Complexity

Grade 11-CCR intricacy band. For much more information on text complexity see these resources from

In the Text Analysis section, Tier 2 vocabulary words are characterized in pop-ups, and Tier 3 words are described in brackets.

Click right here for standards and skills for this lesson.


Common core State Standards

ELA-Literacy.L.11-12.4 (Determine the definition of unknown and multiple-meaning words and also phrases.)ELA-Literacy.RI.11-12.1 (Cite textual evidence to support analysis of what the text claims explicitly as well as drawing inferences.)

Advanced Placement united state History

Key principle 4.1 – II.A. (…Romantic ideas in human perfectibility fostered the increase of voluntary establishments to promote religious and secular reforms…)Key principle 4.1 – III.A. (A brand-new national society emerged…that combined European develops with local and also regional social sensibilities.)Skill form III: ability 7 (Analyze functions of historical proof such together audience, purpose, suggest of view…)

Advanced location English Language and also Composition

Reading nonfictionEvaluating, using, and citing primary sourcesWriting in number of forms about a variety of subjects

Teacher’s Note

“Self-Reliance” is main to expertise Emerson’s thought, yet it have the right to be an overwhelming to teach due to the fact that of that is vocabulary and also sentence structure. This lesson uses a thorough expedition of the essay. The text evaluation focuses top top Emerson’s definition of individualism, his evaluation of society, and also the means he believes his version of individualism deserve to transform — indeed, conserve — American society.

The first interactive exercise, well-suited for individual or small group work, presents several of Emerson’s an ext famous aphorisms together tweets native Dr. Ralph, a nineteenth-century self-help guru, and asks students come interpret and also paraphrase them. The 2nd invites students to think about whether they would take on Dr. Ralph’s vision of life. It explores paragraph 7, the most well-developed in the essay and the just one that reflects Emerson connecting with other people to any considerable degree. The practice is designed come raise questions around the effects of Emersonian self-reliance for one’s connections with others, including family, friends, and the wider society. The excerpt illustrates critic’s luigi Menand’s contention, cited in the lift note, the Emerson’s essays, although usually taken as affirmations, room “deeply unconsoling.”

This great is divided into 2 parts, both obtainable below. The teacher’s guide includes a lift note, the text evaluation with responses to the close analysis questions, accessibility to the interaction exercises, and a follow-up assignment. The student’s version, an interactive worksheet that have the right to be e-mailed, contains every one of the above except the responses to the close reading questions.

Teacher’s overview (continues below)Background noteText evaluation and nearby reading questions with answer keyInteractive exercisesFollow-up assignmentStudent variation (click come open)Interactive PDFBackground noteText analysis and close analysis questionsInteractive exercises

Teacher’s Guide


Background QuestionsWhat type of text are we handle with?For what audience was it intended?For what function was the written?When to be it written?What to be going on at the moment of its creating that might have influenced its composition?

Ralph Waldo Emerson passed away in 1882, but he is still very much through us. Once you hear world assert their individualism, perhaps in rejecting assist from the government or anyone else, you hear the voice of Emerson. When you listen a self-help guru ~ above TV tell people that if they change their method of thinking, they will change reality, you hear the voice of Emerson. He is America’s apostle of individualism, ours champion the mind end matter, and also he collection forth the core of his thinking in his essay “Self-Reliance” (1841).

While they affect us today, Emerson’s principles grew the end of a specific time and also place, i m sorry spawned a philosophical movement called Transcendentalism. “Self-Reliance” asserts a central belief in the philosophy: reality lies in our spontaneous, involuntary intuitions. We perform not have actually the an are here to define Transcendentalism fully, yet we have the right to sketch part out its fundamental convictions, a little bit of its historic context, and also the method “Self-Reliance” relates come it.

By the 1830s countless in new England, particularly the young, felt the the faith they had actually inherited from your Puritan ancestors had become cold and also impersonal. In their check out it short emotion and also failed to foster that sense of connectedness come the divine which castle sought in religion. Come them it appeared that the church had taken the eyes off heaven and also fixed them on the product world, i m sorry under the probings, measurements, and also observations of science seemed less and less to sell assurance of divine presence in the world.

Taking direction from ancient Greek philosophy and European thinking, a small group of brand-new England intellectuals embraced the idea that men and also women go not require churches to attach with divinity and that nature, far from being without spirituality meaning, was, in fact, a realm of icons that spicy to divine truths. According to this preachers and also writers, us could attach with divinity and also understand those signs — that is come say, transcend or rise over the material civilization — just by agree our own intuitions about God, nature, and also experience. This insights, lock argued, necessary no external verification; the mere truth that castle flashed throughout the mind showed they were true.

To hold these beliefs required enormous self-confidence, of course, and this is whereby Emerson and also “Self-Reliance” come right into the picture. That contends the there is within every of united state an “aboriginal Self,” a first or ground-floor self past which there is no other. In “Self-Reliance” he specifies it in mystical terms together the “deep force” with which us “share the life whereby things exist.” it is “the spring of activity and thought,” the resource of ours spontaneous intuitions. This self specifies not a particular, separation, personal, instance identity yet a universal, human identity. As soon as our insights have from it, they room valid not just for us yet for all humankind. Hence we have the right to be assured the what is true in our exclusive hearts is, together Emerson asserts, “true for every men.”*

But how deserve to we phone call if ours intuitions come native the “aboriginal Self” and are, therefore, true? we cannot. Emerson says we must have actually the self-trust to believe that lock do and follow them together if lock do. If, indeed, they space true, at some point everyone will certainly accept them, and they will be “rendered ago to us” as “the global sense.”

Daguerrotype of Ralph Waldo Emerson

until the rest of the human being accepts ours beliefs, however, we will be the end of step; we will certainly be nonconformists. Emerson tells united state not to worry. The essence of self-reliance is resistance to conformity. Indeed, nonconformity is a authorize of strength: “Whoso would certainly be a man,” he writes, “must it is in a nonconformist.” In a sense “Self-Reliance” deserve to be seen as a pep talk designed to combine our deal with to stand up to society’s efforts to make united state conform. “Nothing,” Emerson thunders, “is at critical sacred but the truth of your own mind.” This is individualism in the extreme.

Emerson opposed mass-party politics due to the fact that it was based upon nothing more than numbers and majority rule, and also he was hostile to mass culture because the was based upon manufactured entertainments. Both, he believed, distracted civilization from the real questions of spiritual health and also social justice. Choose some doubters today, he thought that mass culture breeds pundit mediocrity and also conformity. He said that it produces soft, weak men and women, more prone to whine and whimper than to embrace good challenges. Emerson took together his mission the task of lifting civilization out that the mass and turning them into robust, sturdy people who could challenge life through confidence. When he hosted out the opportunity of together transcendence to every Americans, the knew that not all would certainly respond. That assured those that did the they would attain greatness and become “guides, redeemers, and also benefactors” whose personal transformations and leadership would rescue democracy. Hence if “Self-Reliance” is a pep talk in assistance for nonconformists, that is likewise a hand-operated on how to live because that those who look for to be people in a fixed society.

Describing “Self-Reliance” together a pep talk and a hand-operated re-enforces the way most people have review the essay, as a job-related of affirmation and also uplift, and also there is much that is affirmative and also uplifting in it. However a mindful reading likewise reveals a darker side to Emerson’s self-reliance. His uncompromising take on of nonconformity and also intellectual integrity deserve to breed a chilly arrogance, a absence of compassion, and a lonely isolation. The is why one doubter has referred to as Emerson’s occupational “deeply unconsoling.”1 In this lesson we explore this side of Emerson in addition to his bracing optimism.

A word around our presentation. Since readers have the right to take “Self-Reliance” together an advice hand-operated for living and also because Emerson was over all a teacher, we uncovered it engaging to cast him no as Ralph Waldo Emerson, a nineteenth-century philosopher, yet as Dr. Ralph, a twenty-first-century self-help guru. In the end we questioning if friend would embrace his method to life and also sign up for his tweets.

*Teacher’s Note: for a more detailed conversation of the “aboriginal Self,” view pp. 65-67 in Lawrence Buell’s Emerson.

1. Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club (New York; Farrar, Straus, and also Giroux, 2001) p. 18.↩

Text Analysis

Paragraph 1
Activity: VocabularyLearn meanings by exploring how words are used in context.

What is important about the verses created by the painter in sentence 1?They “were original and not conventional.”

From evidence in this paragraph, what execute you think Emerson way by “original”?He defines “original” in sentence 6 as soon as he claims that we worth the job-related of Moses, Plato, and Milton because they claimed not what others have thought, however what castle thought.

In sentence 2 and 3 just how does Emerson indicate we must read one “original” work?He suggests that we should read it with our souls. We need to respond much more to the emotion of the occupational rather 보다 to its clear content.

In telling us how to review an initial work, what carry out you think Emerson is informing us around reading his work?In sentences 2 and also 3 Emerson is informing us exactly how to review “Self-Reliance” and also his job-related in general. We must attend much more to its sentiment, its emotionally impact, fairly than come the thought it may contain. The reason for this advice will become obvious as we find that Emerson’s essays are much more collections the inspirational, emotionally charged sentences than logical arguments.

How does Emerson define genius?He defines it together possessing the confident id that what is true because that you is true for every people.

Considering this definition of genius, what go Emerson typical when he claims that “the inmost in early out time i do not care the outmost”?Since the private or “inmost” reality we find in our hearts is true for all men and women, the will eventually be “rendered ago to us,” proclaimed, as an “outmost” or windy truth.

Why, follow to Emerson, execute we value Moses, Plato, and also Milton?We worth them since they ignored the wisdom that the past (books and also traditions) and also spoke not what rather thought yet what castle thought, the “inmost” truth they uncovered in their own hearts. Lock are an excellent because they transformed their “inmost” reality to “outmost” truth.

Thus far Emerson has said the we have to seek reality by looking right into our own hearts and that we, choose such great thinkers together Moses, Plato, and also Milton, should disregard what we uncover in books and in the learning of the past. What effects does his advice hold for education?It diminishes the prestige of education and also suggests that formal education and learning may actually get in the way of our search for knowledge and also truth.

Why then should we bother to research “great functions of art” or even “Self-Reliance” for the matter?Because good works of arts “teach united state to abide by ours spontaneous impressions.” and also that is, the course, exactly what “Self-Reliance” is doing. Both they and also this essay reassure united state that ours “latent convictions” are, indeed, “universal sense.” They combine our capacity to keep our individualism in the challenge of “the totality cry of voices” who oppose us “on the various other side.”

Based on your analysis of paragraph 1, just how does Emerson define individualism? support your price with referral to certain sentences.Emerson specifies individualism together a profound and also unshakeable trust in one’s own intuitions. Just about any sentence native 4 v 11 can be cited together support.

<1> I check out the various other day part verses written by an eminent artist which were original and not conventional. <2> The soul always hears one admonition in such lines, permit the subject be what that may. <3> The emotion they instil is of an ext value than any type of thought they may contain. <4> To think your own thought, to believe that what is true because that you in your personal heart is true for every men, — that is genius. <5> Speak her latent conviction, and also it shall be the universal sense; because that the inmost in due time i do not care the outmost, — and also our very first thought is rendered earlier to united state by the trumpets that the last Judgment. <6> familiar as the voice that the mental is come each, the highest possible merit us ascribe to Moses, Plato, and also Milton is, that they set at nothing books and also traditions, and spoke not what men yet what castle thought. <7> A guy should discover to detect and watch the gleam of irradiate which flashes across his mind indigenous within, more than the lustre the the firmament of bards and also sages. <8> however he dismisses without notice his thought, because it is his. In every job-related of genius we identify our very own rejected thoughts: castle come back to us v a particular alienated majesty. <9> good works the art have actually no an ext affecting class for united state than this. <10> they teach us to abide by ours spontaneous impression through good-humored inflexibility then many when the entirety cry of voices is on the other side. <11> rather , to-morrow a stranger will say through masterly good sense specifically what we have thought and also felt every the time, and also we candlestick be required to take with shame our own opinion native another.
Activity: Dr. Ralph’s TweetsDecipher Emerson’s aphorisms.

Note: Every good self-help guru supplies advice on how to take care of failure, and also in the excerpt from paragraph 35 Dr. Ralph does the by describing his right of a self-reliant young man. Below we view Dr. Ralph at maybe his many affirmative, telling his followers what self-reliance have the right to do for them. Prior to he does that, however, that offers, in i 34, his diagnosis of American society in 1841. The instance of his “sturdy lad” in paragraph 35 argues what self-reliance have the right to do for society, a template he picks up in i 36.

What, follow to Emerson, is wrong with the “social state” that America in 1841?Americans have become weak, shy, and also fearful, one indication of its true problem: it is no longer capable of creating “great and also perfect persons.”

Given the political paper definition in i m sorry he composed “Self-Reliance,” why can Emerson think the American society was no longer qualified of developing “great and perfect persons”?In Emerson’s view, by giving power to the “mob,” Jacksonian democracy dilute American society and provided rise to society and personal mediocrity.

What is Emerson’s systems for America’s problem, and how does that equipment illuminate what he is do the efforts to perform in “Self-Reliance”?His systems is to produce “men and women that shall renovate life and our social state,” and this is the score of his essay.
<1> The sinew and heart of man seem come be attracted out, and also we are come to be timorous, desponding whimperers. <2> We are afraid that truth, fear of fortune, fear of death, and afraid of each other. <3> Our period yields no great and perfect persons. <4> We want men and also women who shall renovate life and our social state, yet we see that many natures room insolvent, cannot meet their own wants , have actually an ambition out of every proportion to your practical pressure , and also do lean and also beg day and night continually…. <5> We space parlour soldiers. <6> we shun the rugged fight of fate, where strength is born.
Close analysis QuestionsWhat walk Emerson mean by “miscarry”? What context clues aid us find that meaning?Here “miscarry” way “to fail.” We can see the by noting the parallel structure of the an initial two sentences. Emerson parallels “miscarry” and also “fails” by placing lock in the same position in the first two sentences: “If our young men miscarry…” “If the young seller fails,…”

What is the relationship in between the young guys who miscarry and also the young sellers who fail in i 35 and the “timorous, desponding whimperers” of i 34?They room the same. The young failures show the point Emerson provides in the previous paragraph around the weakness of America and its citizens.

According come Emerson, exactly how does an “un-self-reliant” human being respond come failure?He despairs and becomes weak. He loses “loses heart” and feels “ruined.” He drops into self-pity and also complains for years.

Emerson frameworks this paragraph as a comparison between a “city doll” and a “sturdy lad.” With recommendation to i 34 what walk the “sturdy lad” represent?He represents the kind of person Emerson wants to create, the kind of human being who will certainly “renovate” America’s “life and social state.”

What room the connotations that “city doll”?The term argues weakness with a hints of effeminacy.

Compare a “city doll” through a “sturdy lad.”City Doll: defeated by failure, urban, narrows his alternatives by researching for a profession, learns from books, postpones life, lacks confidence and also self-trust.Sturdy Lad: resilient, rural, in ~ least expert in rural skills, “teams it, farms it”, realizes he has many alternatives and takes advantage of them, learns from experience, engages life, own confidence, trusts himself.

What allude does Emerson make v this comparison?Here Emerson is in reality trying to guide his reader to adopt his variation of self-reliance. His to compare casts the “sturdy lad” in a optimistic light. We desire to be favor him, not favor a “city doll.” Emerson says that, v the sort of men and women exemplified by the “sturdy lad,” self-reliance will rescue American life and society from weakness, despair, and defeat and also restore its capacity for greatness.

What perform you notification about the development of the work Emerson assigns come his “sturdy lad”?They ascend in wealth, prestige, and influence native plow hand come member the Congress.

We have actually seen that Emerson hopes to raise above the mob civilization who will certainly themselves it is in “great and also perfect persons” and also restore America’s ability to create such people. What does the development of jobs he assigns to the “sturdy lad” suggest about the roles these human being will pat in American society?As teachers, preachers, editors, congressmen, and land owners, they will be the leaders and opinion devices of American society.
<1> If our young males miscarry in their an initial enterprises, they lose all heart. If the young merchant fails, males say that is ruined. <2> If the best genius research studies at among our colleges, and is not set up in one office in ~ one year after that in the urban or suburbs of Boston or brand-new York, it appears to his friends and to himself the he is ideal in being disheartened, and in complain the rest of his life. <3> A sturdy lad from brand-new Hampshire or Vermont, who in turn tries every the professions, who groups it, ranches it, peddles, keeps a school, preaches, edit a newspaper, goes to Congress, buys a township,* and also so forth, in successive years, and always, choose a cat, drops on his feet, is worth a hundreds of this city dolls. <4> he walks abreast with his days, and feels no dead in no ‘studying a profession,’ for he does no postpone his life, but lives already. He has not one chance, however a hundreds chances.

*Emerson go not median that the “sturdy lad” would certainly buy a town. He probably method that he would buy a big piece that uninhabited land (townships in new England were 6 miles square). The allude here is the he would become a comprehensive landowner.

Activity: living the Self-Reliant LifeExplore Emerson’s advice on just how to live the self-reliant life.

Why go Emerson think that “a better self-reliance must work a transformation in every the offices and relations the men”?On one level Emerson is suggesting that once individuals become self-reliant, their brand-new found power will lug fresh strength and also robustness to everything from their occupational to their household life. When individuals change, organizations change. On an additional level, he is suggesting that as leaders in American society, the newly empowered self-reliant will bring around social change.
<1> the is simple to see that a greater self-reliance have to work a change in every the offices and relations that men; in your religion; in their education; in their pursuits; their modes of living; your association; in your property; in their speculative views.

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Follow-Up Assignment

In a well organized essay define what culture would be favor if everyone embraced Emerson’s idea that self-reliance. Your analysis should focus on Emerson’s perspectives toward law, the family, and also education. Be sure to use details examples native the message to support your argument.

Vocabulary Pop-Ups

admonition: gentle, friendly criticismlatent: hiddennaught: ignoredlustre: brightnessfirmament: skybards: poetssages: way men and also womenalienated: do unfamiliar by gift separated native uselse: otherwisesinew: connective tissuestimorous: shydesponding: discouragingrenovate: changemiscarry: failmodes: stylesspeculative: theoretical


Portrait of Ralph Waldo Emerson engraved and also published by Stephen A. Schoff, Newtonville, Massachusetts, 1878, indigenous an original illustration by Samuel W. Rowse in the possession of Charles Eliot Norton. Courtesy of the Library the Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, LC-DIG-pga-04133.Daguerreotype of Ralph Waldo Emerson, 4 x 5 black-and-white negative, creator unknown. Courtesy that the Yale repertoire of American Literature, Beinecke rarely Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University, new Haven, Connecticut.