Why does Emerson say "A man is a god in ruins" in Nature?

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durbanville | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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In Nature by Ralph Waldo Emerson, Emerson endeavors to clarify the difficulties and hindrances to Man's successful union with Nature. From a reading of excerpts of his book, he explains how we cannot expect to fit into the universe without our own experiences. He ponders why, when our forefathers "beheld God and nature face to face" the present age should be satisfied to view it "through their eyes." He encourages Man to be curious and to find his place in nature. In his chapter entitled "Nature," he admits to being "part or particle of God" and in being part of nature there is unity and understanding.

As he continues, Emerson refers to nature as "a metaphor of the human mind." He suggests that man restricts nature's description because of his own limitations but if man were to live "in harmony with nature" everything would make much more sense, transforming the world into "an open book." Striving for the ideal creates a unified vision and the result is "a beauty which is truth, and a truth which is beauty." Emerson wants man to look within himself to the "soul of man." God, the "Supreme Being," Emerson proposes enables man to build on the past and create endless "possibilities." Man then has power within his own space although not infinitely.

Emerson talks in chapter VII about how "Man is a god in ruins." He initially uses this statement to introduce his essay which helps give clarity to his intentions. He is referring to the potential of man to create and recreate. "Infancy" and death ensure that the universe remains balanced and if man returns to an "innocent" state, like a child he will find that death no longer has the power to control and man can control his own immortality whereby dying will be as mellow "as we awake from dreams." Thus man as a god in ruins reveals man's potential to control his own state of being because he has as much "dominion" as Adam or Caesar. The "kingdom of man over nature" is within man's grasp. 

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accessteacher's profile pic

accessteacher | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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This statement is actually given as a kind of introductory quote or statmeent before his essay begins, and it can be seen as providing us with a summary of Emerson's central ideas and what he is trying to communicate in this essay. Emerson's main point is that man is potential of mystical connection with nature and that we have immense possibility and power within us. However, the "ruins" that we dwell in and which are shown to be negatively impacting us are civilisation and society, which of course take us away from nature and present us being reliant on ourselves alone.

Therefore, this rather intriguing image that Emerson gives us is shown to be incredibly potent. It both highlights his belief in man's true role and potential in this world, as, in his opinion, we are all capable of being "gods" through our ability to comprehend and be open to the mystical truth in nature. However, at the same time, it recognises the danger of dwelling too much in society and how this prevents us from fulfilling our potential with all of its distractions and the way in which we are not forced to become self-reliant.

 

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