Places Discussed

(Critical Guide to Settings and Places in Literature)


Nature. Place from which all education springs. It is in Nature that the French orphan boy Émile is to learn the most important lessons, with the help of a tutor. Sunrises and storms reveal the beauty and power of the Creator, ripples caused by stones cast into ponds reveal Newtonian physics, watching the Sun rise in one place and set in another introduces Émile to cosmology. Nature also provides ample stimulus for healthy physical development. For Jean-Jacques Rousseau the role of the tutor is merely to ensure that the path is not strewn with glass as the naked child runs freely down the path.

Civil society

Civil society. In contrast to Nature, the world that humankind occupies. For Rousseau, civil society reflects varying degrees of perversity. For example, large cities represent the abyss of the human species. Towns and villages are closer to the “General Will.” Rousseau finds that least-cultured people are generally those who are the wisest. When Émile tours Europe for nearly two years to achieve his final stage of growth, he travels to remote provinces instead of major cities.


*Paris. France’s leading city is to Rousseau a place of noise, smoke, and mud that lacks both honor and virtue. Anyone seeking the important things in life—happiness and love—can never be far enough away from Paris. Rousseau considers it a misfortune for any child to be born rich and Parisian. When Émile is of age and looking for a...

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(Great Characters in Literature)

Blanchard, William H. Rousseau and the Spirit of Revolt: A Psychological Study. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1967. Explores the psychological motivation for the educational reforms developed in Émile. Describes well the many contradictions in Rousseau’s writings on education.

Cranston, Maurice. The Noble Savage: Jean-Jacques Rousseau, 1754-1762. London: Penguin Press, 1991. Explores Rousseau’s aesthetic and literary evolution during this prolific period in his career as a writer. The chapter on Émile describes both practical and unreasonable recommendations by Rousseau on educational reform.

Crocker, Lester G. The Prophetic Voice (1758-1778). Vol. 2 in Jean-Jacques Rousseau. New York: Macmillan, 1968. Analyzes the last twenty years of Rousseau’s career. The lengthy chapter on Émile examines the conflict between Rousseau’s praise of freedom and his desire for the teacher to control his pupils’ activities.

Havens, George R. Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Boston: Twayne, 1978. Contains an excellent general introduction to Rousseau’s life and career and an annotated bibliography of important critical studies on his work. The analysis of Émile stresses the positive elements in Rousseau’s desire to sensitize parents and teachers to the emotional needs of children.

Wokler, Robert. Rousseau. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995. A thoughtful study of Rousseau’s belief that successful educational reform will eventually make citizens unwilling to tolerate despotic governments. Describes well the many connections between Émile and Rousseau’s Social Contract (1762).