Ralph Waldo Emerson Questions and Answers

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What is Emerson asserting in this statement? "It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion, it is easy in solitude to live after our own, but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude..."

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Steph Müller eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Ralph Waldo Emerson was the father of transcendentalism, which focuses on concepts like individualism and moral protest.

These concepts are quite fitting with the quote at hand, which is basically saying that life's biggest challenge is to hold on to your beliefs and values while you are in the middle of a crowd of people who may not share these values.

The first part of the quote reads "It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion", which is implying that if you agree with the opinions of others, then it is easy to be with others. It then goes on to explain that if you are on your own, then it is easy to hold on to your own beliefs and principles.

The challenge, as explained in the last part of this quote, is to be in the midst of a crowd and still adhere to your own beliefs as you would if you were in a state of solitude.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The basic premise of the quote is that there is a greater sense of character within the individual who is able to maintain their own sense of character and integrity in a world that might speak otherwise.  Emerson's primary assertion is one that stresses that independence of thought should be a constant, even when all other voices around the individual speaks to the contrary.  For Emerson, the approach of his contemporary, Thoreau, is an admirable one, but one that does fully take into account that individuals must live in a social setting amongst individuals.  At some level, being able to isolate oneself in a complete sense is not practical.  However, if one can maintain one's own sense of identity and independence while being immersed in a social setting.  In this light, individuals must find a balance between being dependent on others in a social sense, while maintaining their own sense of independence from the opinions of others.

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