What is the relationship between people, nature and God in "Self-Reliance"?

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accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

You might want to think about what Emerson is talking about when he writes of "that divine idea which each of us represents." He seems to be talking about the unique, God-given individuality of each person. He clearly believes that relying on and expressing ourselves is an act of prayer and praise to God:

It may be safely trusted as proportionate and of good issues, so it be faithfully imparted, but God will not have his work made manifest by cowards.

Therefore, God wants us to be ourselves and express our individuality, but according to Emerson, the best place for us to be able to do this is in Nature rather than society. Being in Nature allows us to understand our God-given calling:

And we are now men, and must accept in the highest mind the same transcendent destiny; and not minors and invalids ina protects corner, not cowards fleeing before a revolution, but guides, redeemers, and benefactors, obeying the Almighty effort, and advancing on Chaos and the Dark...

However, when we move into "the world" or society these voices become "faint and inaudible" as we are forced to consider suppressing our individuality for the needs of the many.

Therefore, "Self-Reliance" throughout expresses Emerson's firm belief that we need to be non-conformist and self-reliant as part of expressing our God-given individuality. He argues that the best arena for us to do this is in Nature and away from "society" that he sets in opposition with non-conformity.

teachersage eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Emerson argues that people should act in a natural way, as the plants do, living entirely in the present moment:

These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence.

Likewise, people should not look to the past or tradition or to the future to decide what to do. They likewise should not conform to what family and friends tell them is the right way to live. Instead, they should examine their own souls and see what path the divine voice within is directing them to pursue. Then they should follow it.

This is because, as with the rose, God has a plan for each person. The key is to discover what that plan is. When a person finds it, he will find inner peace. Society will benefit as well. When a person pursues his destiny, bucking convention, he will discover that others help him on his way. Emerson writes:

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. Accept the place the divine providence has found for you . . .

Nature does not conform to society, but to God's divine plan. So should we, Emerson argues—and people across society will be better off for it. 


mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, there is a close interrelationship among individuals, nature, and God.

In "Self-Reliance," Emerson reiterates some of his ideas from Nature such as the belief that the man who communicates with Nature is brought to higher thought and "a better emotion." For Nature assuages his troubles by taking a man outside himself to reconnect with the grandeur of divine creation (God). Further in "Self-Reliance," Emerson also states, "Accept the place that Providence has found for you," as he emphasizes the uniqueness and individuality of every man. Emerson urges individuals to rail against Society that is in "conspiracy" against the manhood of the individual because it demands the individual to "surrender his liberty and [the] culture of the eater."

In his inspiring essay, "Self-Reliance," Emerson urges men to distance themselves from the "joint-stock company" of society so that they can trust themselves and hear the voices of Nature and God. For to be a man, one must be a non-conformist open to the messages that are divine, and not those of conspiratorial men.

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