Fate Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

A great change occurred in Emerson’s thought in his later life, as can be demonstrated in the essay “Fate.” Whereas freedom and optimism were emphasized in his early life, fate and limitation eventually became his great concern. Having, in his later life, read much oriental literature, which greatly emphasizes the power of fate, Emerson felt it necessary to reckon with this subject and include it in his thought.

Unlike his earlier essays, which nearly always begin with an optimistic trust in the potentiality of the self, “Fate” begins with an emphasis on obstacles, which are described as immovable and which individuals would inevitably experience in their attempts to achieve goals. To avoid the misunderstanding that he has radically changed his view regarding the grand nature of humankind, which had been effectively advocated during most of his life, Emerson affirms the importance of liberty immediately after his opening statement on the significance of fate.

The ideal principle, according to him, is to strike a balance between liberty and fate, rather than overemphasize either of them. After setting forth this principle, Emerson turns his attention back to fate, citing Hinduism, Calvinism, and Greek tragedy as examples for their emphatic treatment of this grim aspect of life. Contrary to his earlier idea, Nature—equated with fate in this essay—is now perceived as potentially rough and dangerous. He describes various kinds of...

(The entire section is 542 words.)

Fate Bibliography (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Allen, Gay Wilson. Waldo Emerson: A Biography. New York: Viking Press, 1981.

Bosco, Ronald A., and Joel Myerson, eds. Emerson in His Own Time: A Biographical Chronicle of His Life, Drawn from Recollections, Interviews, and Memoirs by Family, Friends, and Associates. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2003.

Buell, Lawrence. Emerson. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003.

Goodman, Russell B. American Philosophy and the Romantic Tradition. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Jacobson, David. Emerson’s Pragmatic Vision: The Dance of the Eye. University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 1993.

Lopez, Michael. Emerson and Power: Creative Antagonism in the Nineteenth Century. De Kalb: Northern Illinois University Press, 1996.

Myerson, Joel, ed. A Historical Guide to Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Porte, Joel, and Saundra Morris, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Ralph Waldo Emerson. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

Richardson, Robert D. Emerson: The Mind on Fire. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995.

Robinson, David M. Emerson and the Conduct of Life: Pragmatism and Ethical Purpose in the Later Work. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

Sacks, Kenneth S. Understanding Emerson: “The American Scholar” and His Struggle for Self-Reliance. Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2003.

Yanella, Donald. Ralph Waldo Emerson. Boston: Twayne, 1982.