Imagine a world where each individual thought for himself, not allowing other outside influences to mold his ideas. We currently live in a society in which a single clip on television, quote from a newspaper, or opinion from a peer can consequently determine how one thinks or the outlook they have on a topic. In “Self-Reliance,” Emerson states, “A man should learn to detect and watch that gleam of light which flashes across his mind from within, more than luster of the firmament of bards and sages. Yet he dismisses without notice his thought, just because it is his. In this quote Emerson is elaborating on the idea that we must all exude intellectual independence and nonconformity. Why do we rely on others to determine the way we think, act, dress and speak? Thoreau and Emerson both tried to incorporate this idea into their writings. When an individual allows others to influence his own ideas he is rendered weak-minded and ignorant. An individual must think for themselves in order to achieve a true sense of self Thoreau often emphasizes the necessity to follow one’s destiny.
If one follows his dream, he will be able to live a life full of happiness and joy. He will experience more freedom and become more spiritually fulfilled in his new way of life. Moreover, he will only achieve this once he has given up parts of his past customs. By living more simply, he will be fully satisfied with his new habits that do not focus on the pecuniary aspects of life. If he has already spent the previous part of his life satisfying his material wants, he has not completely wasted his life.
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However, he needs to fill his soul with something more substantial, such as passion for his dream (Thoreau). Thoreau correctly emphasizes that only true happiness can be achieved through following one’s heart. Mansions and cars can never make a person truly happy, even if he believes it himself. People are often preoccupied with the view of the society in which they live. One must “listen to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius” to identify his true passions (Thoreau).
If one is fortunate enough to experience this tremendous joy, he should pursue it, even if it means taking a risk. In the modern world, people may find it more difficult to follow Thoreau’s claims. Society considers certain careers and lifestyles to be much worthier and successful paths. If one has the courage to venture outside of this realm of acceptance, he may achieve happiness on a personal level, but not within society. In today’s world, many people value materialistic items to an unhealthy extent.
They focus their lives on doing well in school, obtaining a decent job, earning money, and buying their way to happiness, rather than identifying and pursuing their passions. However, they do not realize that “money is not required to buy one necessary of the soul” (Thoreau). They could devote their lives to pursuits that bring them personal fulfillment, even if they are not always profitable paths, such as performing arts, environmental conservation, teaching, or writing.
While Thoreau believes it is impossible to achieve fulfillment through economic means, apparently the majority of people in today’s society claim to obtain their happiness through financial success. Clearly, no society could survive without an economy. Although in the world as Thoreau has proposed it, people would not be overly absorbed in the financial aspects of life. Rather they would enjoy everything else in a simpler manner. However, the technological advances that this country has experienced and the standard of living that people have come to expect make it nearly impossible to live such a simple life.
This advanced level of society makes it difficult for people to live with any focus other than money, a challenge which makes the “invisible boundary” harder to surpass (Thoreau). It becomes nearly impossible for one to live by Thoreau’s ideal vision of finding bliss through passion, because if one’s passion does not produce sufficient money, it may not be practical in this modern world. Thoreau emphasizes the need for passion in life and contends that it is the true road to happiness.
Unfortunately, many people in today’s society will have limited opportunity to experience this joy because the materialistic nature of society forces them to focus excessively on making money. In order for Thoreau’s vision to become a reality, people would have to choose to follow their dreams and society would have to change its focus on material wealth and its idea of success. “I learned this, at least, by my experiment: that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live thelife which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.
He will put some things behind, will pass an invisible boundary; universal and more liberal laws will begin to establish themselves around or within him; or the old laws be expanded, and interpreted in his favor in a more liberal sense, and he will live with the license of a higher order of beings. In proportion as he simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness. If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be.
Now put the foundations under them” (Thoreau). Thoreau did not just preach these ideas but really believed them. In that quote he wants us to understand that although the world may be a harsh place to slow down and let life become a part of your being in a way you haven’t allowed before. By actually taking the time to look around you at life itself you begin to see a very simplistic view that allows you to be conscious of the natural environment that surrounds you. Thoreau wrote “We do not ride the railroad; it rides upon us. In a sense this means that no matter how hard we strive to achieve greatness in the end it does not matter, we must act as individuals, for we are the ones who create the tracks that others may ride. Like Thoreau, Emerson shared this optimistic view of life. Emerson recognizes the strength in being non-imitative. One aspect of Emerson’s writing is his constant emphasis on the idea of individuality. It would be interesting to see how he would expect these ideas and principles to be conducted in present times.
As we are continually bombarded with propaganda from various sources we tend to lose track of our own conscience. Emerson’s writings allow for a reader to bend the meaning to fit their own life. He clearly feels that by following one’s own thoughts you become a more moral individual. Emerson says in his essay “To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart, is true for all men,-that is genius. ” This means that we set the principles in which we live by and how we view ourselves as a person. We view the world through our own eyes and all interpret life around us differently.
Although these pieces of literature were written over one-hundred years ago we can still see the importance that could potentially have a dramatic affect on the way we view the world and society as a whole. Thoreau and Emerson both incorporated these ideas of individuality into their works allowing the readers to think for themselves. In a way you can almost say that really we are truly the ones who give definition to the essay, taking from it not necessarily their thoughts but what we extracted from it…. but then again maybe that’s exactly what they intended.