Emerson contends that society is "a joint-stock company" that is in conspiracy against the individual.
According to Emerson, society's main purpose is to suppress individuality:
Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.
Emerson, who rails against conformity in his essay, states that the "joint-stock company" of society has members who agree to relinquish their individualism for the safety of conformity. They, then, share the same opinions, the same thoughts, and they want others to accept these opinions and thoughts.
In his essay, Emerson makes a persuasive argument for non-conformity and self-sufficiency. Finding sanctity in the individual mind, he calls upon those in his audience to express themselves strongly. Further, he insists that imitation of others is ignorance, and in the individual's mind there is sanctity. For, Emerson contends, the divine presence is at work in those who would be individuals. After all, he concludes, only by being non-conformists can people be fully human.
With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall.
Finally, Emerson concludes by stating that acting in accordance with true feeling will effect a sound, worthy life. And, he states, it matters not that a person be misunderstood because many great people such as Pythagoras, Socrates, Jesus, Luther, Copernicus, and Galileo were misunderstood. After all, "[T]o be great is to be misunderstood...."