The central theme of Ralph Waldo Emerson's "The American Scholar" is that intellectualism in America needs to break from its dependence on European thought and shape itself within the distinctive character of America.
At the onset of his address to the Harvard chapter of Phi Beta Kappa Emerson states,
Our day of dependence, our long apprenticeship to the learning of other lands, draws to a close.
Because the scholar has an obligation "to cheer, to raise, and to guide men by showing them facts amidst appearances," he must be intellectually free for his spiritual power to be evident. The American thinker needs to break from the influences of European thought and trust in himself ("self-reliance") and not defer to the "popular cry." He must rely upon his own inner truths and stay in touch with nature and read books, all of which can teach a scholar much.
“Know thyself,” and the modern precept, “Study nature,” become at last one maxim.
Emerson concludes that the role of the American scholar is one of great importance. He should actively seek knowledge rather than just reading the works of others and adopting European thought; moreover, he should seek knowledge through interaction with life and nature. In this way the scholar/writer can develop his own ideas and a style of writing that is uniquely American.