Self-Reliance Questions and Answers
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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How does Emerson explain how he used figures of speech to develop his theme in "Self-Reliance"?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Emerson feels passionate about his topic in his essay "Self-Reliance." He wants us as readers to be persuaded by his argument, which states that we should follow the dictates of our own souls rather than what society, tradition, books, or our families tell us that we should do with our lives.

To make his point forcefully and memorably, Emerson employs figures of speech throughout his essay. For example, Emerson uses a metaphor, or a comparison that does not use like or as, when he writes:

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.

Just saying "trust thyself [yourself]" would fall flat. However, comparing trusting oneself to an "iron string" puts a powerful visual image in our minds, especially coupled with the image of a heart vibrating as that steel string of self trust vibrates.

Another vivid metaphor states that:

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds ...

Here, consistency is being likened to a hobgoblin, a small, evil spirit that haunts "little minds." We can...

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