In "Self-Reliance," what does the analogy starting "no kernel of nourishing corn" mean?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Emerson's essay argues passionately that a person must trust his or her inner voice: that we all have a destiny given to us by God, and we all have to find it and cultivate it for ourselves. This is what Emerson means by self-reliance. We can't borrow the knowledge of who God meant us to be by conforming to other people's ideas. Emerson, among many other images, tries to impress on us that we can't really be nourished properly trying to eat someone else's corn. That's not a helpful shortcut, because eating what someone else has planted, nurtured and grown will leave us dissatisfied. We have to do our own internal work.

For Biblically literate audiences of Emerson's time, Jesus's words you "reap what you sow" would have leaped to mind with this image. The entire essay leans heavily, if in a more universal (transcendental) manner, into the Protestant idea of examination of conscience. Don't rely on an earthly authority or society to tell you what is right for you...

(The entire section contains 2 answers and 543 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team