Ralph Waldo Emerson Questions and Answers

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Discuss Emerson's style with reference to some of his essays.

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Ralph Waldo Emerson, a Transcendentalist, felt that the self is an autonomous spirit which acts according to universal moral laws. Located in all objects, this spiritual self develops from communion with nature.  In his essay Nature, Emerson employs analytical reasoning as he points to the heavenly state of nature whose existence is in conjunction with the spirit:  As he explains the reactions of people to nature, Emerson is forced to conclude that its power to delight does not exist independently.  Instead, he argues, "Nature always wears the colors of the spirit."  For the man who is happy, there is a delight in nature, but for the man who has just lost a friend, the "sky is less grand."

Thus, with Emerson's arguments, there is in Nature a recurring tension between emotion and intellect.  When he is more rational, Emerson denies that nature has a soul, but when his emotion overwhelms him, he endows nature with a transcendence. 

In his essay Self-Reliance, Emerson makes use of many figures of speech that compare abstract ideas with ordinary things or events.  For instance, he uses metaphor as he writes that

Society is a joint-stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. 

Emerson also makes other points through the use of analogy; for example, he writes

This sculpture in the memory is not without preestablished harmony.  The eye was placed where one ray should fall that it might testify of that particular ray.

He also uses illustration.  For example, when Emerson writes that "to be great is to be misunderstood," he alludes to such greats as Pythagoras, Socrates, Luther, Copernicus, Galileo, and Newton, who were all misunderstood.

Because most of Emerson's essays contain all of his major ideas, they may sometimes seem to be without logical connection; however, Emerson's central ideas are powerful and are always expressed succintly and with much insight. In fact, critics remark upon Emerson's masterful command of common language.



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