The American Scholar

by Ralph Waldo Emerson

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What is the thesis statement in the given paragraph from Emerson's American Scholar?

In self-trust all the virtues are comprehended. Free should the scholar be—free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom, “without any hindrance that does not arise out of his own constitution.” Brave; for fear is a thing which a scholar by his very function puts behind him. Fear always springs from ignorance. It is a shame to him if his tranquillity, amid dangerous times, arise from the presumption that, like children and women, his is a protected class; or if he seek a temporary peace by the diversion of his thoughts from politics or vexed questions, hiding his head like an ostrich in the flowering bushes, peeping into microscopes, and turning rhymes, as a boy whistles, to keep his courage up. So is the danger a danger still; so is the fear worse. Manlike, let him turn and face it. Let him look into its eye and search its nature, inspect its origin—see the whelping of this lion which lies no great way back; he will then find in himself a perfect comprehension of its nature and extent; he will have made his hands meet on the other side and can henceforth defy it and pass on superior. The world is his who can see through its pretension. What deafness, what stone-blind custom, what overgrown error you behold is there only by sufferance—by your sufferance. See it to be a lie, and you have already dealt it its mortal blow.

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The thesis to this excerpt from American Scholar is that the scholar must be free of dogma and established wisdom. The scholar should look within to "defy it," (i.e. his fear of breaking with widely held beliefs and opinions) and in so doing he can "pass on superior." Emerson held that truths could be discovered through self-examination and awareness, rather than focusing on old and anachronistic (read: European) values. "Stone-bound custom" only exists because people allow it to, because they are afraid of transcending it. Scholars need the courage to look within in order to be innovative.

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Which are the rhretorical features that reveal Emerson's transcedentalist worldview in this quote from "American Scholar"?In self-trust all the virtues are comprehended. Free should the scholar be—free and brave. Free even to the definition of freedom, “without any hindrance that does not arise out of his own constitution.” Brave; for fear is a thing which a scholar by his very function puts behind him. Fear always springs from ignorance. It is a shame to him if his tranquillity, amid dangerous times, arise from the presumption that, like children and women, his is a protected class; or if he seek a temporary peace by the diversion of his thoughts from politics or vexed questions, hiding his head like an ostrich in the flowering bushes, peeping into microscopes, and turning rhymes, as a boy whistles, to keep his courage up. So is the danger a danger still; so is the fear worse. Manlike, let him turn and face it. Let him look into its eye and search its nature, inspect its origin—see the whelping of this lion which lies no great way back; he will then find in himself a perfect comprehension of its nature and extent; he will have made his hands meet on the other side and can henceforth defy it and pass on superior. The world is his who can see through its pretension. What deafness, what stone-blind custom, what overgrown error you behold is there only by sufferance—by your sufferance. See it to be a lie, and you have already dealt it its mortal blow.

Emerson's evocation of "self-trust" is a statement of one of the defining characteristics of Transcendentalism. Claiming that "in self-trust are all the virtues comprehended," he asserts the ability of clear-headed, brave thinking to smash through error. He is arguing above all that scholars must not be constrained by already established dogmas or the thought of previous intellectual giants, but rather should trust their own mind, since that is the only way to achieve originality and innovation. He believed, with some other Transcendentalists, that there was a Universal Spirit that manifested itself in the minds of everyone, and that only through self-examination (guided when necessary by study,) and through action in the world could individuals create truly original thought, art, and literature. 

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