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How does Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance" apply to the classics of American...

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amerie | College Teacher | (Level 2) Adjunct Educator

Posted December 14, 2011 at 11:36 AM via web

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How does Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance" apply to the classics of American literature?

specifically the transitions between Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, The Great Gatsby, and Catcher in the Rye should be explored.

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accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 14, 2011 at 5:55 PM (Answer #1)

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I would want to answer this question by talking about the two key elements of this brilliant essay, which are individualism and then conformity, and how these two concepts apply to the texts you have mentioned. Let us remember that Emerson's writings in this essay are above all a call for man to reject the restraints of society and to value their own thoughts and ideas. This of course leads to not conforming to the pressures of society and having our unique selves stamped down by those pressures.

If we think about these two concepts, we can definitely relate them to the texts you mentioned, especially if we think about the main characters. Huck Finn is of course a perfect example of somebody who stubbornly defies the pressure of society to "sivilise" him and rejoices in being an individual by himself living in harmony with nature. I wonder whether we could argue that Jay Gatsby is an example of a character who actually tries to conform to society too much and loses his soul, and life in the process. Finally, Holden is of course another Huck-like figure in the way that he refuses to conform to society and insists on expressing his individuality.

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