Self-Reliance

Ralph Waldo Emerson Character Analysis

The author. Emerson’s voice in this essay is a confident one that makes controversial and provocative statements designed to move the reader to listen to his or her own voice and ignore societal pressures. Emerson’s perspective in the essay is rooted in transcendentalist thought, especially in his emphasis on the importance of the individual, reliance on intuition, the underlying unity of everything, and the appreciation of nature.

Ralph Waldo Emerson Quotes in Self-Reliance

The Self-Reliance quotes below are all either spoken by Ralph Waldo Emerson or refer to Ralph Waldo Emerson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of Self-Reliance published in 1993.
Paragraphs 3-5 Quotes

Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:
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Paragraphs 6-9 Quotes

Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), Society
Page Number: 21
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Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The Individual
Page Number: 21
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Paragraphs 10-11 Quotes

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker)
Page Number: 23
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For nonconformity the world whips you with its displeasure.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker)
Page Number: 24
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Paragraphs 12-16 Quotes

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The Individual
Page Number: 24
Explanation and Analysis:
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Paragraphs 21-24 Quotes

We denote this primary wisdom as Intuition, whilst all later teachings are tuitions.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker)
Page Number: 27
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We lie in the lap of immense intelligence, which makes us receivers of its truth and organs of its activity.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker)
Page Number: 27
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Paragraphs 35-50 Quotes

Beauty, convenience, grandeur of thought and quaint expression are as near to us as to any, and if the American artist will study with hope and love the precise thing to be done by him, considering the climate, the soil, the length of the day, the wants of the people, the habit and form of the government, he will create a house in which all these will find themselves fitted, and taste and sentiment will be satisfied also.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The Individual , Society
Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:
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Society never advances.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), Society
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ralph Waldo Emerson Character Timeline in Self-Reliance

The timeline below shows where the character Ralph Waldo Emerson appears in Self-Reliance. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Paragraphs 1-2
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Emerson includes three epigraphs, one that translates as “Do not seek for things outside of yourself,”... (full context)
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Anti-Enlightenment Ideas and American Culture Theme Icon
Emerson opens the essay by mentioning that he read a poem and found himself stirred by... (full context)
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Emerson believes that every individual has a moment in their life when they recognize that envy... (full context)
Paragraphs 3-5
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
“Trust thyself,” Emerson tells the reader. The most important realization any individual can have, in fact, is that... (full context)
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Emerson believes that the universe has placed before us perfect examples of the best way to... (full context)
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Emerson claims that boys, too, with their independent attitudes, lack of respect for authority, and willingness... (full context)
Paragraphs 6-9
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Emerson believes that when we are alone, we can be like the babies and the boys... (full context)
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
According to Emerson, “Whoso would be a man must be a conformist.” Any individual who wants to be... (full context)
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Emerson expresses disappointment that the individual conforms to conventional morality even when it contradicts what the... (full context)
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Emerson observes that conventional morality is effectively a toll that an individual pays to belong to... (full context)
Paragraphs 10-11
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Emerson states, “What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think,”... (full context)
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Emerson’s primary objection to living one’s life on the basis of conventional morality is that it... (full context)
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
“For nonconformity, the world whips you with displeasure,” Emerson writes, and so it would be to the thinking person’s advantage to consider what expressions... (full context)
Paragraphs 12-16
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Emerson says the other thing that prevents trust in oneself is the mistaken idea that consistency... (full context)
Nature Theme Icon
With regards to consistency, Emerson reminds the reader that human nature has its own internal consistency, so it truly is... (full context)
Paragraph 17-20
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Emerson’s wish for his age is that people will finally come to understand how ridiculous consistency... (full context)
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Given that the people commonly revered by society were just individuals with complete self-trust, Emerson says, modern individuals should take heart that their intuitions and self-trust are equal to anyone... (full context)
Paragraphs 21-24
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Emerson believes that there is something that draws us to people who live with self-trust. What... (full context)
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Anti-Enlightenment Ideas and American Culture Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
We can recognize intuition in moments of self-reflection, Emerson says—“calm hours” that reveal the underlying unity of everything. The soul, space, light, and time... (full context)
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
Emerson believes that the ability to tap into the underlying unity of existence—God, in this case—through... (full context)
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Nature Theme Icon
...would be better off looking to nature to understand how to move through the world, Emerson posits. He observes that the blade of grass, the rose bud, the leaf bud, and... (full context)
Paragraphs 25-28
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Emerson then explains the central point of the preceding discussion. He explains that his articulation of... (full context)
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Anti-Enlightenment Ideas and American Culture Theme Icon
Emerson claims that society hates that moment of transcendence because it upsets traditional hierarchies and conventional... (full context)
Paragraphs 29-32
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Anti-Enlightenment Ideas and American Culture Theme Icon
Emerson laments that despite the good that could come from a self-reliant morality, society is still... (full context)
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
...a whole, which will accuse the individual of embracing a complete lack of all morals. Emerson responds to this possible accusation by pointing out that the self-reliant individual can absolve themselves... (full context)
Paragraphs 33-34
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Anti-Enlightenment Ideas and American Culture Theme Icon
Just looking at the weakness of society, Emerson says, should make the need for an unconventional morality clear. Emerson sees his age as... (full context)
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Anti-Enlightenment Ideas and American Culture Theme Icon
One can see this weakness of young men from American cities—Emerson calls them “city dolls”— who quit when confronted with any failure or setback in their... (full context)
Paragraphs 35-50
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Anti-Enlightenment Ideas and American Culture Theme Icon
Emerson then moves to offer specific applications of self-reliance on a societal scale. He believes that... (full context)
Anti-Enlightenment Ideas and American Culture Theme Icon
Emerson also argues that self-reliance could have an impact on American culture as a whole. Rather... (full context)
Anti-Enlightenment Ideas and American Culture Theme Icon
Emerson also believes that the mania for basing our identities on what we own must stop,... (full context)