||Ralph Waldo Emerson, excerpts from "Self-Reliance," 1841|
One critic has written that "the rise of democracy, either the trans-Appalachian Jacksonian stripe or that of the eastern slums and factory towns, was what provoked the transcendentalist to his most significant reaction." We have chosen to illustrate that reaction with an excerpt from Emerson's "Self-Reliance." An exhilarating call to a vital and bracing individualism, it is also a critique of the culture of the common man. To help place it in that context, read it in the light of the following excerpt from Emerson's 1860 essay "Considerations by the Way."
"Leave this hypocritical prating about the masses. Masses are rude, lame, unmade, pernicious in
their demands and influence, and need not to be flattered, but to be schooled; I wish not to
concede anything to them, but to tame, drill, divide, and break them up, and draw individuals out
of them. The worst of charity is that the lives you are asked to preserve are not worth preserving.
Masses! The calamity is the masses. I do not wish any mass at all, but honest men only, lovely,
sweet, accomplished women only, and no shovel-handed, narrow-brained, gin-drinking million
stockingers* or lazzaroni* at all. If government knew how, I should like to see it check, not multiply population. When it reaches its true law of action, man that is born will be hailed as essential. Away with this hurrah of masses, and let us have the considered vote of single men spoken on their honor and their conscience." Could be used with students. 7 pages.
||In "Self-Reliance," how is Emerson trying to "draw individuals out of" the masses?|
What implications does "Self-Reliance" hold for community, for a democratic culture, for equality?|
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What is Emerson's vision of democracy?|
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In Emerson's view, what is the source of political power? What is its purpose?|
||Compare Emerson's attitude toward the mob with that of Hawthorne in "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" and Twain in Huckleberry Finn.|