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Emerson's Concept and Emphasis on Nonconformity in "Self-Reliance"


In "Self-Reliance," Emerson emphasizes nonconformity as a crucial aspect of individualism. He advocates for self-trust and the rejection of societal expectations, arguing that true personal growth and fulfillment come from following one's inner voice rather than adhering to external pressures.

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How does Emerson define nonconformity in Self-Reliance?

Emerson strongly champions nonconformity in his essay "Self-Reliance." He believes that a true man must be a nonconformist, because otherwise, he will simply agree with what those around him say and will never have the confidence that his own thoughts are actually valid or worthwhile. According to Emerson, nothing in the world is sacred except the integrity of a person's own mind, and this must be placed above external ideas of what is valuable in the world.

Emerson defines nonconformity in relation to this idea of self-trust. He says that a nonconformist will always occasion displeasure in the face of society. People are always resistant to those who have their own ideas and do not simply conform to generally accepted opinions. He encourages the true genius to embrace their own nonconformity and accept that they will be misunderstood by the world around them.

To conform to widely accepted ideas is a simple way to navigate life, but it is not challenging, and it is not appropriate for those who wish to live in a true and self-reliant way. A self-reliant person is by definition a nonconformist, because he or she will accept only his or her own personal opinions to be true unless adequately convinced otherwise.

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In "Self-Reliance," what is the role of nonconformity in self-reliance, and why does Emerson emphasize it?

Emerson wants young people to become self-reliant in the sense of looking inward into their hearts and souls to find their paths in life. He mentions nonconformity so much because he knows that young people will be under intense pressure from their families, society, and tradition to conform to expectations. Conformity, he understands, is the great enemy of following one's destiny. Nonconformity is the courage of our convictions.

Emerson is trying to create a space in which young people can feel encouraged to risk following an unconventional path, which is why he mentions nonconformity so often. He cites such figures as Jesus and Galileo to show how much more a nonconformist can contribute to society than someone who slavishly follows its rules. He urges his listeners to believe in themselves and to be willing to forge their own way, even if their parents disapprove or they are ridiculed by society. Too often, Emerson argues, people like Galileo, who was ridiculed for saying the earth revolves around the sun, are proven right.

As a Transcendentalist, Emerson accepts the assumption that a divine force is at work in the universe, speaking directly to our souls if we can only shake off social expectations and listen to that inner voice. It will direct us to our higher calling, he says, if we trust it. Following this calling is the only way to find true personal fulfillment and the best way to serve society.

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