What is the tone of "Self-Reliance"?

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Tone is the attitude or mood a writer conveys. In "Self-Reliance," Emerson conveys a tone of complete confidence and unwavering conviction in what he has to say. He is serious and never hesitant—he never qualifies or weakens what his ideas are with words like "perhaps," "sometimes," or "in some cases." His conviction is absolute. For example, he states unequivocally,

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.

It is this faith in the idea that every person, barring none, should look into his own soul and follow his own path that gives the essay its power. Emerson continually uses declarative statements that imply that he is telling the truth.

While it starts off dispassionately, Emerson's essay stirs us because it expresses strong emotions. For example, Emerson uses exclamation points thirteen times in the essay. One example is as follows:

And truly it demands something godlike in him who has cast off the common motives of humanity, and has ventured to trust himself for a taskmaster. High be his heart, faithful his will, clear his sight, that he may in good earnest be doctrine, society, law, to himself, that a simple purpose may be to him as strong as iron necessity is to others!

Statements like the one above are not simply assertions: they are calls to action. Saying that the following one's own heart is "godlike" shows how very strongly Emerson believes in the value of trusting oneself. He calls on the young to be as "strong in iron" in sticking to this all important principle.

Not only does Emerson establish his stirring tone by making strong assertions, he illustrates them using images—descriptions using the five sense of sound, sight, smell, taste, and touch—that reinforce his point, such as in the following:

The civilized man has built a coach, but has lost the use of his feet. He is supported on crutches, but lacks so much support of muscle.

These images, which in the above quote we can see in our mind's eye, support his case that people must rely on themselves and not on a flawed society in order to make the right decisions about their paths through life.

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