Searching Fot Truth

May 19, 2008
Where should one search to find truth? Many scholars might say through research in encyclopedias, newspapers, or the internet, but Ralph Waldo Emerson’s answer would be within one’s self. With transcendentalism as his foundation, Emerson conveys the importance of individuality in his essay on “Self Reliance.” A time for change and an end to conformity and consistency is instilled through diction, tone, and other literary elements.

Throughout the essay Emerson uses analogies and metaphors, causing the reader to evaluate their own beliefs and actions. By accepting life and the will of a higher power man can learn to trust himself and come to the realization that, “every heart vibrates to that iron string.” This “iron string” is man’s intuition and should ultimately compel actions. In the fifth paragraph of the essay Emerson uses the casual and irresponsible manner of young boys as an example. Unlike adults under the influence of a conformist society, young boys do not seek to please others, but instead, “You must court him; he does not court you.” Emerson also uses the analogy that “Society is a joint-stock company” to ensure that self -reliance is the enemy of conformity. To fit into society man must give up free will, much like members of a joint-stock company all searching for a common agreement.

Because of his enthusiastic and unwavering views, Emerson’s tone confirms his transcendentalism. By bluntly stating, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” Emerson expresses the danger of falling into the brainwashing of conformity. The commoners of society do not reach greatness by seeking to please because “To be great is to be misunderstood.” The sermon-like honesty and adamancy throughout the essay adds to the powerful meaning.

In addition to alluding to Plato as one of the “greats,” Emerson’s essay on “Self Reliance” and his transcendental views can be compared and found similar to Plato’s “Allegory of the Cave.” Plato’s Cave is an analogy explaining false reality. The prisoners that are obligated to conform in Plato’s piece of visual imagery relate to the foolish society Emerson was surrounded by. With the help of teachers like Plato, Emerson urges readers to find their own truth and to not “seek yourself outside yourself.”

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