In his essay, Ralph Waldo Emerson brings out his argument in the sense that polite
society in one way or the other has a significant effect on the personal growth of an individual.
He writes in his essay that self-sufficiency always gives an individual the freedom to discover
the true self of an individual and in the long run, attain the desired independence. Emerson urges
the readers at all costs to follow their will at the individual level instead of being absorbed into
the social expectations. He emphasizes more on one developing their voices instead of other
intermediary voices such as the Church or any institution.
Emerson encourages his readers to be honest while in relationship with others at all cost.
At the same time, he outlines the benefits of self-reliance which are such as; altering religious
practices, encouraging the Americans to stay at home at all costs and ensure that their culture is
properly developed while the main focus remains on the individual rather than the society as a
whole. This essay opens with a warning for one to believe in their true self, and this is considered
to conform to the Universal Spirit. Emerson contrasts infancy and adulthood as the model which
anyone should follow while cultivating the spirit of independence or even nonconformity.
He applies a metaphor in using a babe as a model of nonconformity as a direct twist of
the elevation of Christ with his total dependence on God. Emerson considers the growth of an
individual to be a normal process of losing the moral sentiment of an individual or even the spirit
of not conforming. Complete trust in the emotions of an individual could, at times, also result in
the contradictions of the emotional changes in an individual. When one acts according to the true
feelings, the result is automatic soundness of life.
Thoreau, on the other hand, conducts an experiment, and in his essay, he is quick to
deduce the moral of his investigation, and he illustrates the benefits of a simplified lifestyle. He
indicates that he is recounting on rudimentary existence that he led and the virtues that are
attached to it. He reasons that excess possessions could probably result in the need for excess
labor to purchase these items. He says that working more than necessary for subsistence shackles
people. He believes that minimizing the needs of an individual is mainly preferable.
There are significant differences between these two philosophers. They share several
views, but also there are substantial differences that exist in their approach to the issues at hand.
The method that Thoreau holds is inherently personal while the procedure that Emerson uses is
mainly observational. Emerson had a belief that the role of a philosopher was to observe without
any interaction while Thoreau, on the other hand, believed that men are supposed to live their
convictions. Thoreau, in his essay, champions for living in harmony with nature while Emerson
advocated for much observations in the surrounding.
Thoreau benefited from Emerson’s work in several ways. Because Emerson was Older
and had published and was already a leader among the intellectual thinkers, he acted as a teacher
and a patron to Thoreau. As time went by, the friendship became stronger, and they related no
longer as master-pupil anymore. Transcendentalism is a philosophical and social movement that
emphasizes the inherent goodness of all nature and humanity and the belief that people can find
truth through their intuition and imagination. People are at their best when they are most self-
reliant and independent.
Emerson, "Nature" 553 (Chapters 1-5 only); "Self Reliance" 596.
Thoreau, "Resistance to Civil Government"