Self-Reliance Questions and Answers
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Self-Reliance book cover
Start Your Free Trial

how does Emerson support his last line. "To be great is to be misunderstood"? "Self-Reliance" by Ralph Waldo Emerson

Expert Answers info

mwestwood eNotes educator | Certified Educator

calendarEducator since 2006

write16,150 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, History, and Social Sciences

In his essay "Self-Reliance," Emerson purports that a state of individualism is the highest level to which man can rise:

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.

But, Emerson contends, man is "clapped into jail by his consciousness."  Once he has acted or spoken on his own, he is viewed with sympathy or with antipathy, and these opinions now enter his consciousness.  If he allows the world to tell him what to do and say, he loses the "voices which we hear in solitude"; his genius leaves him.  To be great, the man must "avoid all pledges" and speak his own opinions, opinions that "sink like darts into the ear of men" and make them fearful. Nevertheless, a man must speak his mind, and, if necessary, tomorrow contradict what he has said the day before, for often consistency is foolish.

Emerson states that others may say,

 "Ah, so you shall be sure to be misunderstood"--

However, it is the great--those who speak their minds, those individuals who think their own thoughts, realizing that "imitation is suicide"--who do not enter the "conspiracy" of society; they are the great because they are individuals of high thought.






check Approved by eNotes Editorial