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What does Emerson mean when he talks about his impulses: "[...] but if I am the Devil's...

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mahamm | eNotes Newbie

Posted October 1, 2011 at 3:36 AM via web

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What does Emerson mean when he talks about his impulses: "[...] but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil"?

I don't quite grasp what Emerson means at this point in his essay when he talks with his friend about impulses, and if they were from good or evil. Did he not care if he did bad things?

 

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted October 1, 2011 at 4:32 AM (Answer #1)

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This exemplifying remark given by Emerson to emphasize the importance of non-conformity appears after Emerson's paragraph in which he discusses the conspiracy of society to destroy the integrity of men.  Society, Emerson contends, "loves not realities and creators, but names and customs."

Therefore, he who would truly be a man must question and "explore" whether customs and beliefs are, in reality, goodness.  For this reason, Emerson cites his words to a sanctimonious adviser "who was wont to importune me with the dear old doctrines of the church."  After this satirical description of the adviser, Emerson writes that he has told the adviser that he is not concerned with the sacredness of tradition; it is the sacredness of his nature with which he is concerned; so, if the tradition of the "old doctrines" should term him devilish, Emerson says that he will then be devilish.  For, he realizes that "good" and "evil" are but terms that can be interchanged by society and are, therefore, meaningless.  Emerson does not imply that he himself is evil; he simply questions the meaning of these words used by unethical men who wish to serve their own purposes--the conspiratorial society.

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