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...

(The entire section is 622 words.)