Conformity and Submission in Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance" Essay

Conformity and Submission in Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance"
An exploration of the individual and society in Ralph Waldo Emerson's "Self-Reliance".
# 154005 | 1,081 words | 1 source | 2014 | CA
Published on Sep 11, 2014 in Sociology (General) , English (General) , Psychology (General)

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From the Paper:

"In the essay "Self-Reliance", Emerson explores the relationship between the individual and society, placing emphasis on the significance of conformity. Pressures created by society influence individuals to conform to a majority, forcing the acceptance of social norms creating a status quo. Individuals feel the pressure that the judgment of others places upon them, and through that they seek security and approval. Following popular opinion leads to the surrender of individual identity, leading to "the virtue in most request" (Pg. 2): conformity.
"Individuals develop a fear of the judging opinions of others. We conform "because the eyes of others have no other data for computing our orbit than our past acts, and we are loathe to disappoint them" (Pg. 4). Because of the society we live in, we believe that by trusting our own thoughts and living according to our inner will instead of adhering to certain norms we put ourselves in a position in which the chance of failure is more probable. Being misunderstood becomes an issue we are afraid of, "for nonconformity the world whips you with displeasure" (Pg.4). Voicing our own opinions turns into a struggle between individual views and the pressing views of society: "But the man, as it were, clapped into jail by his consciousness. As soon as he has once acted or spoken with elcat, he is a committed person, watched by the sympathy or the hatred of hundreds, whose affections must now enter into his account" (Pg. 2). Family, friends, and society as a whole hold certain standards for us to fulfill. When others watch expecting certain outcomes, and we fail to meet these expectations, we feel the weight of all judgments. Conforming reduces this pressure. By becoming consistent with the rest of the population, our differentiation from others is minimalized, diminishing the extent to which judgment is placed as well as possible disappointment and misunderstanding. Emerson believes that it is highly important to go against conformity, trusting in yourself and your own thoughts: "Is it so bad, then, to be misunderstood? Pythagoras was misunderstood, and Socrates, and Jesus, and Luther, and Copernicus, and Galileo, and Newton, and every pure and wise spirit that ever took flesh. To be great is to be misunderstood" (Pg. 5)."

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