Homework Help

What is the main theme of "Self Reliance" by Ralph Waldo Emerson? What message does the...

user profile pic

hridam | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 27, 2010 at 5:35 PM via web

dislike 1 like

What is the main theme of "Self Reliance" by Ralph Waldo Emerson? What message does the author give us through the story?

1 Answer | Add Yours

user profile pic

ktmagalia | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

Posted June 27, 2010 at 10:47 PM (Answer #1)

dislike 2 like

Ralph Waldo Emerson, a transcendentalist or one who believes

in the idea that truth resides throughout creation and is grasped intuitively, not rationally,

is known for his philosophical stance against "materialism, institutionalized religion, and slavery." These topics were at the foundation of his speeches and writings.  Along with this philosophy, his stress on individual integrity is reflected in his mantra of "Trust thyself" and is a repeated message in his essay, "Self-Reliance."

This idea is reflected in Emerson's beginning definition of genius:

To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius.

Continuing with this idea of "to believe your own thought..that is genius", Emerson discusses societal pressure and the importance of self-worth and value, relationship between  the individual and "the divine spirit," the moment of "highest truth" when an individual truly finds peace in the discovery of truth, and the importance of resisting temptation of social pretense when one isn't true to one's self and to each other. All of these ideas come to the telling discovery of "Self-Reliance" in which

Emerson concludes, "Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.''

Join to answer this question

Join a community of thousands of dedicated teachers and students.

Join eNotes