The Importance of Self-Reliance

Categories: Ralph Waldo Emerson

The phrase self-reliance has come close to extinction. The world has a plethora of copies that are confused for original works of art. In the essay “Self-Reliance,” Ralph Waldo Emerson asserts that we are losing originality. He uses an aggressive approach in explaining to the reader his views toward the rules of imitation, which society as a whole tends to follow. Through the use of emotional and ethical appeals Emerson persuades his audience to be more self-aware of the actions that lead to unoriginal behavior.

Emerson’s first uses pathos to show the reader the evil in imitation and envy. He starts the paragraph off powerfully, avoiding unnecessary diction in the assertion “... that envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide... ” (Emerson) initially causing shock because of the abrupt sentence structure and language. Beyond that by using the present tense of “to be”, the reader is able to realize that their envy is ignorance and that their imitation is suicide.

He describes that wanting to be something other than yourself is inane.

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By identifying with the experience of having envy the reader feels guilt, which is another way Emerson uses pathos. By relating imitation suicide, Emerson elevates imitation to the unethical level of suicide. Emerson explains that the readers are killing themselves and the beauty that they posess by withholding their individuality. Once again this claim reinforces the use of pathos by causing the reader to reflect on their own imitative actions.

Emerson next uses pathos to show that every person controls what their life will be.

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The metaphor in “no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him till”, relates an individual’s life to a plot of ground and places the responsibility of that plot on the individual. Essentially reminding people that the harder they work at life, the more benefits they will reap.

This is something that people tend to forget because they have become accustomed to receiving benefits without putting in effort. This use of pathos connects the reader to what Emerson is saying because of its simplicity; it is easy to understand that a farmer only has a good crop if he tends to the soil. Having come from a very religious and devout Christian family, Emerson has a lot of spiritual influence in his writings. He writes “We but half express ourselves, and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents. bringing up the idea that humans are representatives of God’s divine idea.

Emerson is telling the reader that they represent God’s creation; when he made humans he was consciously thinking of what he was doing. God made everyone different and by imitating others instead of embracing individuality it contradicts what God intended. This intertwines pathos, ethos, and logos. He uses to pathos to emphasize the guilt the reader feels for not being satisfied with what God has given to them.

Ethos is used in Emerson’s favor by showing that his position is the same as God’s giving him credibility as an author. Finally, logos is used by appealing to the reader’s sense of reason Emerson is able to appeal to the reader through the use of logos, pathos, and ethos. Through these appeals he shows that individuality is something to be valued and that imitation is denying a persons God given gift. His use of simple metaphors and religious themes help connect the audience to Emerson’s theory.

Cite this page

The Importance of Self-Reliance. (2016, Nov 06). Retrieved from

The Importance of Self-Reliance
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