How does Emerson feel about envy and imitation?

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price7781 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In “Self-Reliance,” an essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson, he states, “There is a time in every man’s education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide. . .”  The title of the essay also clearly shows that Emerson believes man must rely on his own abilities and ideas when confronting the world around him.  He cannot envy others for their wealth or fame, and he cannot want things he cannot have; rather, he must accept what the world has given him, “as his portion.”  In addition, Emerson believes that to imitate another’s behavior, ideas, and beliefs, man would be killing his true self and his true nature.  Following others is the path to destroying the self because you are not thinking on your own, and you are not confident in your own convictions.  Emerson believes in non-conformity and the importance of making one’s own destiny.  To do otherwise would be committing the deadly sin of envy and killing the uniqueness of one’s self.

To further this idea, Emerson writes, “. . . none but he knows what that is which he can do, nor does he know until he has tried."  In this quote, Emerson urges his audience to try to be independent and “self-reliant” in their actions and beliefs. 


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