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What does Emerson mean in the following quote from "Self-Reliance"?"Though I confess...

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soniesun | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 12, 2009 at 2:46 AM via web

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What does Emerson mean in the following quote from "Self-Reliance"?

"Though I confess with shame I sometimes succumb and give the dollar, it is a wicked dollar which by and by I shall have the manhood to withhold."

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scarletpimpernel | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

Posted October 12, 2009 at 3:22 AM (Answer #1)

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Throughout the paragraph in "Self-Reliance" that this excerpt closes, Emerson discusses his view of charity, specifically giving money to charities or individuals for charitable purposes. He mentions in the lines above the quote the following organizations for which he has no use:

"but your miscellaneous popular charities; the education at college of fools; the building of meeting-houses to the vain end to which many now stand; alms to sots; and the thousandfold Relief Societies. . ."

The author's contempt for the above groups stems from two ideas. First, Emerson's entire essay promotes man's fending and thinking for himself. If Emerson or others simply give another person everything that he or she needs, soon that person will rely upon others for everything and completelyrefute Emerson's philosophy of self-reliance. Relying on others is bondage in the author's eyes and hinders the country from becoming what Emerson envisions--an individualistic utopia full of open-minded, critical-thinking humans.

Emerson's second reason for disdaining the institutions which collect charities or build "meeting-houses" is that he believes that an individual should seek out the God within himself--not attend strictly formatted churches or rely on others to spread around one's money. Each person needs to be responsible for deciding whom to help or mentor and what to believe.

It is interesting that as strongly as Emerson believes in relying upon one's self, he still gives to these charities. However, his belief in personal growth and perfection correlates with the idea that he realized that even he had areas in which he could become more self-reliant.

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 12, 2009 at 3:27 AM (Answer #2)

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This quote is from the essay "Self-Reliance."  In this essay, Emerson's main argument is that people should trust their own thoughts and beliefs rather than bowing to what society thinks is right.

In the passage you quote, Emerson is telling himself that he lacks "manhood" when he gives money to popular charities rather than just giving them to ones he himself believes in.  This idea is connected to the main idea of the essay -- he thinks he ought to go with what he believes, not what society tells him and he is annoyed with himself when he doesn't.  He hopes that one day he'll believe in himself enough to withhold that dollar from the charity that he doesn't believe in.

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parama9000 | Student , Grade 11 | Valedictorian

Posted February 28, 2014 at 1:49 PM (Answer #3)

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He believes that he should do what he believes in, and not conform to society's norms.

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