The American Scholar

The American Scholar Character Analysis

The American Scholar is Emerson’s intended audience for the essay. The American Scholar is a collective term for post-Revolutionary War college students who are capable, according to Emerson, of finally breaking away from European influences and pioneering new forms of art and philosophies that are uniquely American. He originally delivered the essay as a speech to the Phi Beta Kappa Society of Harvard College, an intellectual audience that embodies this ideal of the American Scholar. Emerson’s hope for the American Scholar is that they will bring unity to America, which had become increasingly divided along lines of class, as well as long-standing lines of sex, race, and religion. Emerson warns the American Scholar that they will have to be very self-reliant and get used to being seen as something of an outcast, but that ultimately their work can potentially revolutionize and revitalize American society and the world at large.

The American Scholar Quotes in The American Scholar

The The American Scholar quotes below are all either spoken by The American Scholar or refer to The American Scholar. 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:
Social Unity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Dover Thrift Editions edition of The American Scholar published in 2009.
The American Scholar Quotes

Perhaps the time is already come when it ought to be, and will be, something else; when the sluggard intellect of this continent will look from under its iron lids and fill the postponed expectation of the world with something better than the exertions of mechanical skill.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The American Scholar
Page Number: 149
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation long mobile

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other The American Scholar quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!

The old fable covers a doctrine ever new and sublime; that there is One Man—present to all particular men only partially, or through one faculty; and that you must take the whole society to find the whole man. Man is not a farmer, or a professor, or an engineer, but he is all. Man is priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The American Scholar
Page Number: 150
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

He shall see that nature is the opposite of the soul, answering to it part for part. One is seal and one is print. Its beauty is the beauty of his own mind. Its laws are the laws of his own mind. Nature then becomes to him the measure of his attainments. So much of nature as he is ignorant of so much of his own mind does he not yet possess.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The American Scholar
Page Number: 151-152
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. Without it he is not yet man. Without it thought can never ripen into truth. Whilst the world hangs before the eye as a cloud of beauty, we cannot even see its beauty. Inaction is cowardice, but there can be no scholar without the heroic mind.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The American Scholar
Page Number: 155
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Life is our dictionary. Years are well spent in country labors; in town; in the insight into trades and manufactures; in frank intercourse with man men and women; in science; in art; to the one end of mastering in all their facts a language by which to illustrate and embody our perceptions.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The American Scholar
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

He then learns that in going down into the secrets of his own mind he has descended into the secrets of all minds. He learns that he who has mastered any law in his private thoughts, is master to that extent of all men whose language he speaks, and of all into whose language his own can be translated.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The American Scholar
Page Number: 158-159
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

Mr. President and Gentlemen, this confidence in the unsearched might of man belongs, by all motives, by all prophecy, by all preparation, to the American Scholar. We have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The American Scholar
Page Number: 163
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile

We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds. The study of letters shall be no longer a name for pity, for doubt, and for sensual indulgence. The dread of man and the love of man shall be a wall of defense and a wreath of joy around all. A nation of men will for the first time exist, because each believes himself inspired by the Divine Soul which also inspires all men.

Related Characters: Ralph Waldo Emerson (speaker), The American Scholar
Page Number: 164
Explanation and Analysis:
Quotes explanation short mobile
Get the entire The American Scholar LitChart as a printable PDF.
The american scholar.pdf.medium

The American Scholar Character Timeline in The American Scholar

The timeline below shows where the character The American Scholar appears in The American Scholar. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The American Scholar
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
...believes that “poetry will revive and lead in a new age in America,” thanks to the American Scholar. (full context)
Social Unity Theme Icon
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
The scholar, according to Emerson, is society’s “delegated intellect.” If the American Scholar has achieved the “right... (full context)
Social Unity Theme Icon
Nature and Connection Theme Icon
...audience that he is going to explore the “main influences” on the development of the scholar, the first of which is nature. To the scholar, Emerson argues, nothing is as interesting... (full context)
Social Unity Theme Icon
Nature and Connection Theme Icon
To make sense of nature, the scholar begins classifying what they see. Emerson asserts that the “young mind” thinks “every thing is... (full context)
Social Unity Theme Icon
Nature and Connection Theme Icon
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
While the scholar is still a “schoolboy,” Emerson states that they will realize that they come from the... (full context)
Social Unity Theme Icon
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
The second major influence over the development of the scholar is the “mind of the Past,” specifically in the form of books. Books, according to... (full context)
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
...will be written about the original book “by thinkers, not by Man Thinking.” Furthermore, young scholars will spend all of their time in libraries studying the original books and forget that... (full context)
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
...inquest, and self-recovery” while reading. Furthermore, he says that books should be reserved for the scholar’s “idle times” when they are finding it difficult to work. In those cases, Emerson believes... (full context)
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
...history and “exact science.” Colleges can also use books to “teach elements” that will encourage scholars to create their works. That, according to Emerson, is the college’s primary duty. (full context)
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
The final major influence over the scholar that Emerson discusses is action. He mourns the fact that scholars—and particularly clergy—are looked down... (full context)
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
Emerson believes that one can judge how much life experience a scholar has by how they talk. By taking an active part in society, the scholar will... (full context)
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
...to truly think about it until it is in the past. This is because the scholar will be too immersed in the present to think about it with the same calm... (full context)
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
Not only must the scholar take action, according to Emerson, but they must put as much of themselves into everything... (full context)
Social Unity Theme Icon
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
Additionally, varied experiences introduce the scholar to new vocabularies. Emerson states that “frank intercourse” with a variety of different people from... (full context)
Social Unity Theme Icon
Nature and Connection Theme Icon
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
...and flow of the sea; in day and night; in heat and cold.” When the scholar finds that they are having difficulty reading books or formulating thoughts to write about, then... (full context)
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
Emerson moves on to the duties of scholars, explaining that they “are such as become Man Thinking.” The primary duty of the scholar,... (full context)
Social Unity Theme Icon
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
Instead of enjoying all the benefits of society, Emerson says that the scholar will find comfort in the knowledge that they are “exercising the highest functions of human... (full context)
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
Because their job is so important, Emerson advises the scholar to “feel all confidence” in themselves as one of the few who really understand the... (full context)
Social Unity Theme Icon
Emerson also prescribes introspection for the scholar, arguing that getting to know oneself is important in getting to understand mankind. He illustrates... (full context)
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
Self-trust is fundamental to the scholar, who should always be “free and brave.” Emerson asserts that scholars must put their fear... (full context)
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
Emerson criticizes the notion that “the world was finished a long time ago.” The scholar recognizes that things can always be improved and learning never stops, and that “great” men... (full context)
Social Unity Theme Icon
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
...of the idea of Culture” that creates a revolution in America. To this end, the scholar will find that understanding human nature is more valuable than “any kingdom in history.” (full context)
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
...that “beams out of a thousand stars.” It cannot be limited, and it is the scholar who has to keep it alive in different times and places. (full context)
Social Unity Theme Icon
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
...like Goethe, Wordsworth, and Carlyle. It is through reading the works of these men that scholars and average readers learn that “things near are not less beautiful and wondrous than things... (full context)
Social Unity Theme Icon
...can govern themselves is greater and more united than a society divided by class. The scholar’s place in all this, according to Emerson, is to be a “university of knowledges” and... (full context)
Social Unity Theme Icon
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
Emerson specifically believes that it is the American Scholar who will bring about a revolution that unites the country. He asserts that the country... (full context)