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Friendship Analysis


Throughout his essay “Friendship,” Emerson employs hypophora, asking rhetorical questions and then immediately providing answers to them. In answering the questions he has posed, Emerson creates a cathartic effect in which readers are given immediate solutions and ideas to ponder. Emerson further appeals to the audience’s emotions through the content of his rhetorical questions.

  • For example, Emerson asks, “What is so pleasant as these jets of affection which make a young world for me again?” The question invites readers to think more deeply about the satisfaction that friendships can bring. It also evokes the feeling of the world being “young” or new again.

Emerson appeals to the audience’s emotions again in explaining the happiness that affection for friends can bring. Last, since “Friendship” lacks a defined narrative or storyline, the use of hypophora acts as a guide for Emerson’s thought process.

Hypothetical Letter

Nearly midway through “Friendship,” Emerson inserts a short, hypothetical letter. By inserting this letter, Emerson gives readers a grounded example in an otherwise abstract essay. The letter shows the thought process of a person’s searching for a friend.

Before the short letter, Emerson has established that developing friendships is an unsure process that can easily be misconstrued by our own emotions. The letter then provides a succinct, inside view into the unsurety of friendship and the potential for a lack of understanding between people. In the sign-off for the letter, Emerson writes “Thine ever, or never.” This paradox points to the fluctuating and changing nature of friendship. The letter writer sees the possible futures of a potential friendship.


Emerson makes use of several allusions in his essay “Friendship.” An allusion is an indirect reference to points of historical or cultural significance.

  • Emerson alludes to Apollo and the Muses when describing the love-filled and euphoric creativity his friendships have provided him. Apollo is the god of the sun, poetry, music, and truth, whereas the Muses are the nine goddesses of artistic inspiration. By alluding to these divine figures in Greek mythology, Emerson highlights the creative spirit his friends lend to him.
  • The phrase “crush the sweet poison of misused wine” alludes to John Milton’s Comus (1634), a masque about chastity, self-control, and virtue in the face of temptation. Here, Emerson uses this quotation to show that to indulge in “affections” can lead to idolatry and an overall misunderstanding of one’s friends. The quote then points to a need for self control in the face of friendship.
  • Another quote that Emerson uses is from Michel de Montaigne (1533–1592), a philosopher of the French Renaissance. Montaigne writes, "I offer myself faintly and bluntly to those whose I effectually am, and tender myself least to him to whom I am the most devoted." Montaigne’s formulation elucidates the paradox of tenderness in friendship: one is often the least tender to one’s closest friends. Emerson uses the quote to explain the paradoxical love behind friendship: that the good and true friends are kept distant, and new of shallow friends are treated with indulgent affection.
  • Last, Emerson includes a quote from Shakespeare’s Sonnet 25. He quotes lines 9–12, which describe how a warrior’s victories are forgotten or sullied by one defeat. Emerson alludes to this sonnet to highlight how one low-quality friendship can sully other, more meaningful friendships.
  • Another allusion is the “Egyptian skull at our banquet.” The “Egyptian skull” refers to a short story called “The Dinner of the Seven Wise Men” by Plutarch. In the story, the men place a skeleton at the table as they dine to remind them of the inevitability of death. This allusion highlights Emerson’s next formulation of ideas, as he then posits that every person will spend their life in search of friendship—an action that is seemingly innate and...

(The entire section is 1,378 words.)