Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Self-Reliance”

Have you ever heard someone called a “sheep” before, as in “Bob is just another sheep following the crowd”? When we use such figurative phrasing, what do we mean by it? As noted in our lecture notes on “Self-Reliance,” Emerson never properly defines the concept “self-reliance.” Instead, he spends the first several pages (if not the entire essay) describing the phrase in the attempt to promote individuality. With that in mind, why do you think Emerson intentionally avoids giving us a singular, definitive meaning of the phrase? How might this connect back to the problem of people acting like “sheep”? How do you think Emerson feels about people acting like “sheep”? Give me a single passage to support your close reading and response.


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Then, think about compliance in today’s world. If we could talk with Emerson today, how do you think he would feel about social media and #trending? This part of the response will probably be the trickiest: give me a single word that you feel best incapsulates his feelings about society, independence, and creativity.

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