What is the summary for "Self-Reliance" by Ralph Waldo Emerson?

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Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance," originally published in the book Essays, suggests that depending on the rules and regulations of society to dictate one's life limits one's ability to explore their true selves. In the essay , Emerson encourages individuals to explore free-will and worry more about...

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Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance," originally published in the book Essays, suggests that depending on the rules and regulations of society to dictate one's life limits one's ability to explore their true selves. In the essay, Emerson encourages individuals to explore free-will and worry more about their own needs than those of their society.

As the essay begins, Emerson indicates that babies are the model of nonconformity and adults should strive to experience the world the way that infants do. Emerson suggests that as one ages, she or he loses bits of his or herself in favor of conforming to the norms and expectations of society. At the time, it was thought that resisting one's desires in favor of behaving as the society wanted was in essence resisting the devil. Emerson goes on to say that even if the devil is behind those desires, one should pursue them anyway. He further suggests that a person who lives her/his life according to her/his own wants and needs, for the entirely of her/his life, will never be taken in by the devil.

Emerson suggests that Christ is not the only embodiment of the Word of God, and that every person has some of this in them, if only s/he chooses to pursue self-reliance. Emerson ends the essay by saying:

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.

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In this essay, Emerson makes a persuasive argument for nonconformity and self-sufficiency, finds sanctity in the individual mind, and calls upon us to express ourselves strongly rather than meekly. He insists that only as individuals do we know the best course of action and that imitation of others is ignorance.

He argues against "society," stating that it is only when we are apart from society that we can truly be ourselves and make the decisions that we need to make as individuals, away from the pressures that society creates. Note how Emerson describes society:

Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members. Society is a joint-stock company in which the members agree for the better securing of his bread to each shareholder, to surrender the liberty and culture of the eater. The virtue in most request is conformity. Self-reliance is its aversion. It loves not realities and creators, but names and customs.

Note how Emerson sets up society as being the antithesis of self-reliance. He argues that society is build around the "surrender" of the culture and liberty of its members, arguing that it inhibits free expression and creativity.

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