Whoso Would Be A Man Must Be A Nonconformist

What is the deeper meaning of the quote, "Whoso would be a man...the suffrage of the world," in "Self-Reliance"?

 

Expert Answers
teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As the answer below noted, the entire quote is as follows:

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.

The quote means that to achieve lasting greatness a person has to be willing to be and do what is unconventional. Every person, according to Emerson, has a God-given destiny, a task he was put on this earth to accomplish. This is why a person must not simply accept what society tells him is a good pursuit. Instead, each individual must determine for himself (and Emerson is speaking to young men, though women could be included) if what is labeled good really is good: he must "explore [question] if it be goodness." Being true to oneself––what Emerson calls "integrity"––is the highest good. "Absolve"––determine––to be yourself, he states. 

In the final clause in this passage, Emerson asserts that it you are true to yourself, you will have the "suffrage" of the world. Suffrage most commonly means the vote. That is, in a metaphoric sense, what Emerson means: the world will vote for you or support your cause, if you are following your deepest calling. But suffrage also means prayers or petitions. This definition adheres more closely to the religious vein of this passage: the person who lives with integrity will earn the world's prayers of support.

This is a deeply individualistic passage, which is followed by a daring challenge to young people to break the confines of conventional religion:

 On my saying, What have I to do with the sacredness of traditions, if I live wholly from within? my friend suggested: "But these impulses may be from below, not from above." I replied: "They do not seem to me to be such; but if I am the Devil's child, I will live then from the Devil." No law can be sacred to me but that of my nature.

Emerson followed Transcendentalism, a movement that put great emphasis on individualism. This essay expresses how passionately he believed all people should follow their own, individual calling.  

booboosmoosh eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Here is the full quote:

Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.

This quote from Emerson's essay, "Self-Reliance," is saying:

In order to be a man—a grown up—he must be willing to turn his back on the world regardless of what the world expects.

Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist.

To be remembered, a man must gather "immortal palms," and must not be held back by the "name of goodness."

He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness.

Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of our own mind. Absolve you to yourself, and you shall have the suffrage of the world.

Integrity is born in a person's mind, and nothing else is sacred unless you absolve yourself to who you are. In this way, you will have the support of the world, of mankind...

Emerson states that to believe your own thoughts, and to know that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men—that is genius.

djm111 | Student

I am confused by this quote and by the answers presented here. "Absolve" means to "set or declare (someone) free from blame, guilt, or responsibility." So if you do not judge yourself, or forgive yourself your urges toward nonconformity... so if you accept yourself and do not accept the constraints society wants to put on you, "then you shall have the surfrage of the world." Well, suffrage means vote, so that means support. 

So, if it means by being true to yourself you will have the support of the world - no. How can it? Hawthorne is adamant that unless you support society and deny your own identity, you will not have the support of society.

 I would love to have this clarified for me.

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Self-Reliance

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