Self-Reliance Questions and Answers
by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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According to "Self-Reliance," does Emerson believe that society limits individual freedom?

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Noelle Thompson eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The short answer to this question is a resounding "yes."  To Emerson, the individual (mind, body, and spirit) absolutely trumps society.  In fact, Emerson spends most of his time in "Self-Reliance" being disgusted by society.  The quotation above is paramount, but there is a line left out of it from the beginning that, in this eNotes Educator's opinion, is key:

These are the voices which we hear in solitude, but they grow faint and inaudible as we enter into the world.

What "voices," you ask?  The voices of individuality.  These are what we here in solitude.  Enter the world, and the voices blend in with the crowd. Immediately after saying this, the quotation in the above answer appears.  Emerson considers society to be "in conspiracy" against that individuality.  To show us how this work, Emerson makes an analogy to a company with "joint-stock."  Better to eat than to secure "liberty."  Further, customs and names are its friends, not creators and realities.

Emerson grows from...

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