The American Scholar


Ralph Waldo Emerson

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Man Thinking Symbol Analysis

Man Thinking Symbol Icon

Emerson uses his concept of Man Thinking to symbolize the ideal scholar who embodies both unity and individuality, or what Emerson refers to as a scholar in “the right state.” Man Thinking, according to Emerson, is what any scholar can—and should—strive to become by studying nature, reading books, and taking an active role in all kinds of work, both intellectual and physical. Man Thinking recognizes the interconnectedness of all things, and that anything they do should be for the betterment of society as a whole. Therefore, they work altruistically and “must relinquish display and immediate fame” and instead contend with “poverty and solitude.” In return, Man Thinking will find happiness and fulfillment in “exercising the highest functions of human nature.” At the same time, Man Thinking would embrace individuality and originality by thinking for themselves rather than limiting their opinions to those they read about in books. Man Thinking, then, is a symbolic representation of proper intellectual development to which the American Scholar can aspire. For the American Scholar to usher in the type of artistic revolution Emerson is advocating for, they must embody the ideal of Man Thinking.

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Man Thinking Symbol Timeline in The American Scholar

The timeline below shows where the symbol Man Thinking appears in The American Scholar. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The American Scholar
Social Unity Theme Icon
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
...society’s “delegated intellect.” If the American Scholar has achieved the “right state” then they become Man Thinking . If they have not achieved that state, then they become “a mere thinker, or... (full context)
Creation and National Identity Theme Icon
...argues that more books 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... (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, he states, is to “cheer, to raise, and... (full context)