Emerson's "Self-Reliance" Term Paper

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topic: english-Emerson "self-Reliance"

Misunderstood Greatness

The quote that most provoked thought and emotion from within

me comes from the essay "Self-Reliance" by Ralph Waldo Emerson. "To

be great is to be misunderstood" was used by Emerson to explain the

lagging growth of the conception of ideas and thoughts of his

generation. Original and novel ideas were scorned by conservatives

who believed the best method for learning was by repetition and

memorization of proven classics written by previous generations.

The continuing timelessness of his quote is still in effect today

as the scientific community has evolved to accept unaccustomed

theories, yet encounters difficulty when relating to the public new

and extreme ideas that rebut the system.

In history, the results of individualism has been spread world

wide. Important leaders, thinkers, and philosophers with radical

ideas in virgin areas of research were making significant finds

rapidly. Yet progress was slowed by short-sighted men who failed to

see greatness.

Aberham Lincoln was a revolutionary in his time with his views

on slavery and forgiveness of the South. Yet his death was the

result of one man's refusal to accept what was once a proud and

rich land reduced to tatters- left to ruin because of her failure

to accept civil reform.

Herman Melville's work in Moby Dick was considered a classic,

yet Melville died a figure with lost prestige, poor and unaccepted.

When he was laid to rest in 1891, he was remembered only as the

author of entertaining novels of the South Seas. It was not until

1920s when his place in America's foremost writers was assured. His

works are now great masterpieces of emotion that were misunderstood

while he was still alive.

Another important example is democracy. In medieval times,

monarchies and kingdoms ruled the land. Today, the monarch is

merely a figurehead behind the power of democracy. At the birth of

the democratic rise of the United States of America, the colonists

were thought of as upstart fools- dreamers believing the

impossible. English royalists were aghast at the indignation of the

colonies to separate from England and form their own country. In

present day, the United States is the sole world power, a great

country born out of dreams.

"Self-Reliance" expressed the need for creative thinking.

Society during Emerson's era resisted reform and scorned the

reformer. Emerson saw individualism in direct conflict with

society. "The effect of society," he thought," was not to

strengthen the individual, but to breed conformity and fear."

Although he often criticized society, he stressed more importantly

the openness of the individual through the soul. The quote " To be

great is to be misunderstood" reflected upon the lack of acceptance

of new thought and theory during his time.

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