How did Emerson mean "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds" to be understood by the reader?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I think that it becomes clear that Emerson is writing in a time period where conformity and the desire for individuals to submerge their own distinctive identity with that of the masses was the norm.  As a nation, the young America was experiencing its first sustained period of industrialization and the desire to keep, make, and spend money was becoming something that everyone seemed to embody.  America took to industry and business without much in way of resistance.  Emerson recognizes this overwhelming homogeneity as solidifying in the newly laid cement of the social setting and for this, the language he holds towards conformity is that of disdain and he wishes to bring this out to the reader.  The idea of a "foolish consistency" is meant to illuminate the idea that those who mindlessly embrace a routine without reflection and questioning must be aware of what they are doing.  Emerson wishes to cause some type of reaction in the reader of the time period, one in which a spark of change will be ignited in understanding that the reader's life that has been engaged upon without questioning or self- scrutiny is one of a "little mind."  The language is direct and forceful, seeking to bring about change and transformation in the individual who Emerson wishes to move away from seeing what is and embracing a sense of what can be.

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