Self-Reliance

Self-Reliance Paragraphs 25-28 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Emerson then explains the central point of the preceding discussion. He explains that his articulation of self-reliance is really only an approximation of the intuition from which it arose. Each person is ultimately responsible for discovering what morality is for themselves. The moment when each individual discovers their own sense of morality will be one of transcendence, “above passion,” beyond time, and more expansive than the “[v]ast spaces of nature.”
In this section, Emerson repeats his argument (and uses more references to nature) that the individual is the source of truth, again articulating this central belief associated with transcendentalism.
Themes
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Emerson claims that society hates that moment of transcendence because it upsets traditional hierarchies and conventional notions of morality. This ultimate form of self-reliance, “eminent virtue,” is extremely powerful and it allows individuals or groups of individuals who possess it to overrule the arbitrary powers that currently dominate society. Emerson respects even ordinary experiences—"Hardship, husbandry, hunting, whaling, war, eloquence, personal weight”—because they are a little closer to that notion of virtue than conventional morality, and he sees the same “principle of conservation and growth” at work in nature. Everything in nature, in fact, reflects self-reliance. Emerson believes that with an understanding of the supreme importance of self-reliance as virtue, the individual can confidently dismiss conventional morality, engage with God by staying at home rather than looking elsewhere, and live a life of simplicity that is worth much more than traditional notions of what is good.
Part of Emerson’s purpose in writing this essay was to empower ordinary people to trust in themselves and their intuitions as truth. In support of that argument, Emerson highlights a number of ordinary activities, some of them mundane ones like hunting or taking care of one’s home/farm, to highlight the idea that anyone can live a moral life and can do so without relying on society. Emerson’s reference to these ordinary activities and the ability to find truth by staying at home would have been especially appealing to people of his time, since in some instances people were scattered across the Western frontier or miles away from formal churches.
Themes
Transcendentalism Theme Icon
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Anti-Enlightenment Ideas and American Culture Theme Icon