Emerson’s Self Reliance and the American Spirit

Discussion of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s perspective and positive assesment of the American spirit.

The American Renaissance, and thus the American character, was shaped in great part by the transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson, which was expressed in his essay, `Self-Reliance`. His essay begins with the recognition of the inherent individuality in man. It is, of course, non-conformity which is the result of this realization. The issue of conformity is an ironic one within the American culture – but the spirit of what Emerson wrote indeed is the embodiment of what is quintessentially American. The concept of self-determination and of total self-reliance is what filled the Pioneers in their Westward movement, it is what drove the creation of free capitalism, and is what has allowed our democracy to remain intact for more than two centuries. While Emerson did not create the non-conformity of the American spirit, he did capture it and glorify it.

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