In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self Reliance” and Henry David Thoreau’s essay “Civil Disobedience,” both transcendentalist thinkers speak about being individual and what reforms and changes need to be made in a conformist society. Thoreau elaborates more on the relationship between individuality and society and to break free from conformity. Meaning to take a stance and influence man to make a social change.
Emerson leans more towards nature and the connection to spirituality. He exclaims that for individuality there has to be some sort of understanding of oneself to make an impact – which is the basic nature. He believes that man’s connection to nature is the most valuable source of life because nature is what links man to God, “the divine providence.” Both authors express the need for individuality in order to possess a strong moral and become whole through their transcendentalist ideals. In Emerson’s “Self-Reliance,” social responsibility is important. The meaning behind this is that there is a time in man’s life when he will finally realize that he has a purpose, a destiny, and the responsibility to achieve goals as long as there is a tap into spiritual nature.
Emerson states, “The strongest man in the world is he who stands alone,” which references the belief of individualism. Emerson notes that famous men and women are often misunderstood simply because of their opinion, ideas, and thoughts; however, this misunderstanding is why they are so respected. One large point in “Self Reliance” is that humans should not conform to society but to be independent in mind. Emerson stresses that one should connect with nature to maintain peace of mind and individual mentality. In “Civil Disobedience,” Thoreau meets a man while serving time in prison who has been locked away for burning down a barn.
Even so, Thoreau sees his cellmate as an honest man by simply trusting his own intuition. Furthermore, Thoreau writes, “The government is best which governs least,” in lines 2-3, which is based on the belief that people should not conform to society but stay independent and embrace their own beliefs, goals, values, and morals.
Both “Self Reliance” and “Civil Disobedience” are relevant in modern society because they discourage conformity, which is a big problem in the world today. Humans tend to lean with the majority, but should be taught to stand their ground. Both essays also mention the government and the problems involved in it. Since they were written, government has not improved; it may have even worsened. Government is best when it governs least- that perspective should still be applied to today’s government. Now, the government tries to constantly control every aspect in everyone’s life, but like Thoreau states, it should allow its people to decide major issues.