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What is the central theme of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay The American Scholar?

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mumroy | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 3) eNoter

Posted September 6, 2010 at 2:00 PM via web

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What is the central theme of Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay The American Scholar?

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lprono | Middle School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator

Posted September 7, 2010 at 3:39 AM (Answer #1)

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Ralph Waldo Emerson was one of the most influential theoretical contributors to the American Renaissance and Transcendentalism. The works of Transcendentalists are thematically linked to European Romanticism in their idealism and their search for a meaningful relationship with nature. Yet, they also strongly argued for the creation of a distinctively American culture.

Originally given as a formal address to the Harvard  Phi Beta Kappa Society in 1837, The American Scholar opens with a plea for an end to the cultural dependence of America on Europe. Because of this strong argument for intellectual freedom from tradition, Emerson's speech was described as "the American intellectual declaration of independence" by Oliver Wendell Holmes. Emerson then goes on to analyse the influences in the formation of an intellectual ("scholar") and his duty to his fellow men. The central theme of the speech is thus the intellectual and cultural nurturing that allows common citizens to become scholars.

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