"Whoso Would Be A Man, Must Be A Nonconformist"

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Last Updated on May 18, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 183

Context: Emerson's essay "Self-Reliance" contains some of his most quoted epigrams (see "To be great is to be misunderstood" and "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds"). Here Emerson argues against the tyranny of custom, of tradition, against any force that keeps a man from being himself. The first law of man should be to trust himself. The boy is nonchalant and outspoken; he spontaneously tells you exactly what he thinks. But the man, as he grows older, is forced by society into conformity, for, according to Emerson, society is in conspiracy against individualism. Yet it is only by being individuals that we can accomplish anything worth doing even though society will be displeased with us. "No law," says Emerson, "can be sacred to me but that of my nature." The seventh paragraph of the long essay begins

Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be goodness. Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind. . . .

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"To Be Great Is To Be Misunderstood"