Self Reliance Essay Essay, Research Paper
S E L F – R E L I A N C E E S S A Y
?A political victory, a rise of rents, the recovery of your sick, or the return of your absent friend, or some other favorable event, raises your spirits, and you think good days are preparing for you. Do not believe it. Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. Nothing can bring you peace but the triumph of principles.? In these concluding lines of Ralph Waldo Emerson?s essay, he once again pounds his beliefs in nonconformatism across to the reader.
The examples of Jay Gatspy, in The Great Gatspy, and George Babbitt, in Babbitt support Emerson?s strong convictions. Jay Gatspy lived a financially comfortable life but spent all of his time living not for himself, but living for his long love for Dazy, a married woman. And George Babbitt was even more ignorant. Conformatism was this man?s middle name! The only thing this poor man ever thought about was impressing his ?so-called? high class friends.
This type of attitude brought both of these men sorrow, and even killed one of them. There is no doubt that Emerson had some great thoughts in his essay, but in my opinion his strong belief in nonconformatism is wrong as is confromatism itself. Instead of taking an extreme ?right wing? or ?left wing? stand, I think a compromise should be made between the two.
In analyzing a character such as George Babbitt, it is very simple to support Emerson?s extreme claims of pro-individualism. Like many people that lived in the early 20th century, Babbitt seemed to define what we call mediocrity. He was a man that lived his life in fear of being an outcast of society, and only had ambitions of raising his social status, no matter what the cost. He was a man who wanted, craved, and needed a daily routine, and was filled with uneasiness if that routine was ever broken. He would publicly proclaim his beliefs, which coincided those of society, and numerous times would even sacrifice his own beliefs simply to gain favor with his business partners and peers.
George F. Babbitt was so weak-minded that the terms babbittry and mediocrity go hand and hand. To be a Babbitt or to be guilty of babbittry is to behave just as he did. It means that in one?s private life one should. For example, Babbitt would read the morning paper just to store up opinions from the editorial pages to regurgitate later with business associates when it is necessary to impress someone or settle arguments. Babbitt had few opinions of his own; his opinions were articulated by other people. Parroting editorials was Babbitt?s way of learning and acquiring wisdom. Memorizing phrases and attitudes of politically conversative editorials was done every morning over coffee. It was one of Babbitt?s daily rituals.
Babbitt was so mediocre that he couldn?t even enjoy sex with his own wife. His sex life was about as satisfying as Al Bundie, from the show ?Married With Children.? Babbitt?s wife, Myra, had a noisy presence. As a housekeeper and a cook she had lost Babbitt?s interest shortly after he married her. Her character serves as Babbitt?s domestic anchor and also a millstone around his neck. Babbitt and Myra rarely spoke of important matters. They simply spoke about superficial about such things as material possessions and costly goods?the only thing they had in common.
Beneath Babbitt?s exterior, there is a vague nervousness and comfortableness that plagues him his entire life. This plague seems to be caused simply by a lack of integrity?no backbone. When the novel ends, Babbitt says that he feels fine and healthy, and to all appearances he is. However, the reader knows that Babbitt?s last bits of intelligence, imagination, and integrity have been distilled into the concept of what is known today as ?babbittry.?
Another character we can analyze is Joe Gatspy. Some people may compare Gatspy and Babbitt and come to the conclusion that they were virtually the same. However, I have come to the conclusion that even though Gatspy and Babbitt had some similar characteristics, they were very different at the same time.
Like Babbitt, Joe Gatspy did not have much self reliance or integrity, but he seemed to know exactly what he was getting into. In Babbitt?s case, he had simply fallen into a routine; and even though he was somewhat intelligent, he didn?t bother to take a look at himself to see what he had become. However Joe Gatspy, had a self awareness but simply didn?t have the will-power to do anything to end his ongoing affair with Dazy.
Unlike Babbitt, Gatspy was a somewhat mysterious man. Even though he was well known to throw a magnificent party nobody, except for his neighbor, really knew or understood his actions. He had already ?made it to the top? financially and seemed to live a comfortable life. And one would think that in the time of the 20?s a man who would host extravagant parties would like to socialize with his guests and maybe even boast a little bit of his well-doings. But Joe Gatspy always had one thing on his mind?Dazy. She was his entire life. He would do anything for her, and I mean anything. If Gatspy lead a life of mediocrity than I would have hated to see anyone of that time who lived a life of under-achievement. Joe Gatspy started at ground zero socially and financially. He worked his way to the top and new exactly what he wanted in life?Dazy. His love was so rich for this woman that he would eventually die for her. Maybe Dazy didn?t return Gatspy?s love, but he died for something that he loved dearly. In my opinion, this is a man to be respected, not socially condemned.
Now we come to the question of Emerson?s Self Reliance. Transcendentalism, or the discovery of the inner soul, seems to be the one of the issues of the writer. There are four main concepts of transcendentalism we should understand in order to assess the essay: 1) the conviction of knowledge given through the five senses, 2) spirit is supreme over matter, 3) nature is the source of joy and exhilaration, and 4) individuals must develop and adhere to higher standards of conduct and reject materialism. Obviously, these are great standards one could base his or her life upon. However, Emerson seems to take these steps a little too far. Emerson states ?To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart, it is true for all men?that is genius.? I completely agree with this statement until he adds ?for all men? and the end of the sentence. It is simply not true. For all man kind do not have the same beliefs, nor will he ever. Emerson claims again, ??To be great is to be misunderstood,? and that one should ?Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.? In my mind, these are words from a fool. If I new a man who spoke with harsh words, but contradicted himself day in and day out?even if he spoke with great conviction?I would think of him as a fool as well. When it comes to being misunderstood?yes, people such as Jesus, Socrates, and Galileo were very misunderstood, and they were indeed extremely great men, but they weren?t misunderstood because of contradictions, but for having minds far greater than the average man?that is why they were misunderstood.
There are many concepts we can derive from Emerson?s essay that could have helped the people in the 1920?s. Maybe Emerson?s essay was so brutally stated because he was fed up with the continuing conformatism of that time. However, if the people of that particular time period would have taken Self-Reliance literally, we must ask ourselves ?where would we be today?? With the many opinions of the population being spoken in ?hard words,? everything in our country would be different today. Things such as the law, government, relationships, and families could be changed to a point beyond recognition. Who knows, our country might not have even existed to this point. I think a reasonable solution to this essay is compromise. A little bit of conformatism, and a little bit of individualism?because even though someone might have great convictions and beliefs, that doesn?t always mean that they are right.