In "Self Reliance", at what conviction do people arrive during their education?

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In his essay "Self-Reliance," Ralph Waldo Emerson lays out a major part of his Transcendentalist philosophy.  In this essay, he talks about how it is vitally important for each person to follow his (or her) own path, his or her own conscience.  He is vehemently against conformity and against the idea that people should bow to the dictates of society.

Because of this, he argues that everyone, in the course of their education, should come to this same conclusion.  They should conclude that they must do things their own way.  As he puts it, they learn that

envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better for worse as his portion

This quote tells us that we learn (or at least we should learn) that it is stupid and suicidal to try to be (or want to be) like others.  Instead, we need to be who we are.

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Stephanie Gregg | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Assistant Educator

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There is a time in every man's education when he arrives at the conviction that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide; that he must take himself for better, for worse, as his portion:  that though the wide universe is full of good, no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till.

This quote does not refer to formal education, but that education that comes with life experience.  Emerson says to be jealous of others is pointless, to spend your life trying to be like others or to even try to be what others want is to die to your true self.  You must come to a place of acceptance of who you are--not what others see you as being and not what you wish you were.  You must accept and make the best of the "plot of ground" that you are given.  Notice that Emerson says no "nourishing" corn can come to you unless you do things for yourself.  You may have "corn," or the material necessities of life, without doing any of the work yourself, but the "corn" will not nourish who you truly are--your soul or spirit.

Hope this helps--Emerson is deep!

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