Who is the "aboriginal Self," the "Trustee"?Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance"

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Emerson's essay, "Self-Reliance" expresses the theme of individuality in a society that is in conspiracy against the "manhood of every one of its members."  Whoever wishes to truly be a man must be a non-conformist.  He must put his trust not in kings, but in himself, accepting the place "the divine Providence" has for him.

Concomitant with the theme of individuality comes the concept of self-worth.  Emerson writes that the trust that men put in kings represents the awareness of their own rights as men.  Then he asks,

The magnetism which all original action exerts is explained when we inquire the reason of self-trust. Who is the Trustee? What is the aboriginal Self on which a universal reliance may be grounded?

The "aboriginal Self" is the individual soul of man, the Intuition.  Contending that when men trust themselves, they are actually trusting the divine, which exists in all men--not just kings.  Emerson calls this divine quality ‘‘the aboriginal Self," "Spontaneity," and "Instinct."  Thus, the "trustee" is not just kings, but all men.

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