Self-Reliance

Self-Reliance Paragraphs 33-34 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Just looking at the weakness of society, Emerson says, should make the need for an unconventional morality clear. Emerson sees his age as one that is governed by fear, one that has produced no truly great people, and one that sorely lacks the ordinary people needed to reform what he sees as a broken American society. Everything commonly labeled as American, Emerson claims, is in fact merely borrowed from other cultures, and that which is not is in a poor state.
Supporting his argument even further, Emerson returns to the implications of nonconformist morality for society. A common complaint of most cultural elites of the day was that the U.S. lacked its own culture. By blaming conformity for this lack of originality, Emerson taps into reformist and nationalistic impulses that were rising in the U.S. during this period.
Themes
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 pursuit of respected professions. Emerson instead admires “the sturdy lad from Vermont or New Hampshire” who tries his hand at all of the ordinary pursuits, and, grounded in a sense of self-trust and rugged individualism, rejects conventional sources of authority—it is he who builds the nation. Emerson believes such men to be worthy of our admiration, since they are the ones making history.
Emerson sets up a contrast between the ineffectual “city boy” and the successful young man whose individualism allows him to accomplish great things. Such a comparison is designed to appeal to Emerson’s audience, made up in part of New Englanders and of a U.S. that was largely rural and still struggling with the rise of urban areas. Further, this stereotypical binary is still evidenced in the American mythos even today, showing Emerson’s lasting influence on his country’s culture.
Themes
Nonconformity, Morality, and Individual Greatness  Theme Icon
Anti-Enlightenment Ideas and American Culture Theme Icon