Ralph Waldo Emerson delivered one of the most influential speeches, “The American Scholar” to Harvard’s Phi Beta Kappa Society. This society compromised of an honorary society of male students with stunning grade point averages. In this address, Emerson pushed to separate the way American writers, artists, and philosophers, create their own works separate from European traditions. Emerson conveys his message using various elements, one element that was very prominent was the usage of metaphors. Emerson paints a picture of how society, once whole, has become divided in several factions with a more refined purpose to live their life. I would say this was crucial in Emerson’s success in motivating his audience to create works that are original.”But unfortunately, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so distributed to multitudes, has been so minutely subdivided and peddled out, that it is spilled into drops, and cannot be gathered. The state of society is one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters, — a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man,” (Paragraph 4). Emerson compares the society to a fountain of power which has divided into droplets of water that can not become united into one substance. In doing so, he makes in very clear of what his stance is on the ideology of jobs. He creates a metaphor to create a visualization of what it really means to be a separate entity from others. He also creates another visual image for readers, by comparing members in society as “monsters”. As though they are individual body parts, attempting to function as a whole, but never succeeding in doing so. At first I was confused when Emerson introduces the term, “Man Thinking”, in which is his way of saying those that deem themselves as writers must take their thoughts and turn them into a reality.
In Ralph Emerson’s speech “The American Scholar”, he gives a surprising and new message to his Harvard student listeners. Emerson stresses to his audience what it truly means to be a scholar, however this definition of scholar isn’t what these students are. Emerson was transcendentalist himself, and his speech was full of transcendental themes as his definition of what a true scholar is was based on transcendental principles. Around paragraph 31 of his speech, Emerson begins to use the term ‘self’ such as “self-relying”, “self-trust”, and “self-directed”. Emerson is telling these listeners (students) that if they want to be the true scholars that they think they are, they need to think for themselves. This idea of self and Emerson’s emphasis on it reflects the overall message Emerson is trying to get across to the listeners. Emerson is trying to send a message to his listeners that they need to always remain independent in their thinking and in their actions. Although reading is good and necessary as Emerson says, he wants to stress to these students that they need to put the books down and stop glorifying these dead thinkers from Europe. In the eyes of Emerson, if you want to be a true scholar you need to develop your own thoughts in isolation in order to discover universal ideas. Emerson stresses the idea of self-trust and repeats it in the paragraph to show the listeners that this ‘truth’ is present in all of us and can be found if we look for it. Emerson is telling these students to stop glorifying the writers and thinkers of the books they’re reading and instead find their self-worth within themselves rather than these other thinkers. If we can understand the reasons Emerson emphasizes the sense of self and his transcendental background, we as readers can better understand Emerson’s definition of what a true scholar is.
Emerson heavily emphasizes on the influence of the past and books when it comes to the way we learn. He states “Books are the best type of the influence of the past, and perhaps we shall get at the truth – learn the amount of this influence more conveniently, – by considering their value alone.” (Emerson Paragraph 11) He admits that people can still benefit from books and if people use it correctly they can attain knowledge from it. However, books should not be the substructure of a person’s education. He points out that books aren’t the only factors when it comes to learning as books have their limitations. He points out that books cannot offer as much and that it limit the mind from thinking further from what they read. He reiterates to not fully rely on the text, but to experience it and to actively think. Emerson says, “Genius looks forward, the eyes of man are set in his forehead, not to his handheld: man hopes: genius creates.” (Emerson Paragraph 16) When a man is really thinking, it is a man who creates, not one who read other peoples’ creations. The power of knowledge is not merely just from books, but from one’s mind in using their own experiences.