Self Reliance and Other Essays

The Political Station in Douglass’s “Narrative of the Life” and Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”

In their respective writings, Ralph Waldo Emerson and Frederick Douglass learn to operate and rebel in their own, personal political communities and are both ostracized by their political convictions. Douglass, a slave living in antebellum America, learns to read and write; his literacy in itself is a form of rebellion and he uses his newfound language against the system that educated as well as oppressed him. Emerson is also an outsider, but by choice; the ideals expressed in his writings necessitate his separation from his community. Both Douglass and Emerson are revolutionaries in their own right, defying their communities and consequential politics to pursue their personal ideologies. However, because of their respective positions in society, Douglass and Emerson approach politics and revolution in differing ways—Douglass must maneuver and rebel within the confines of the politics established by his community, while Emerson is able to redefine the political structure entirely, essentially existing outside the laws of his community.

Douglass, because of his position in his community as a former slave, must work within the existing political guidelines to fashion his rebellion. Douglass must abide by the laws of his masters;...

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