Self Reliance and Other Essays

Self Reliance and Other Essays Summary

Throughout his essays, Emerson is concerned with the fundamental relationship between humanity, nature, and God.

As the broadest overview of his ideas, Nature calls for a renewed spiritual relationship with the universe (or rather, God and nature, two sides of the same coin for him), unchained from the past, based on personal experience and revelation. Such a relationship would allow individuals to become a "transparent eyeball," a conduit for God in nature. In "Self-Reliance," Emerson focuses on how the individual may achieve such a relationship with nature and God through self-reliance. To be self-reliant, individuals must avoid conformity and false consistency, follow their own instincts and ideas, and remain true to themselves. "Experience" explores the "lords of life," which confuse our experience of life and distract from the cultivation of our relationship with God. Emerson advises we turn to self-reliance to overcome these.

"The Over-Soul" in turn describes the nature of the Over-Soul/God (which unites and contains all souls) and the key role of revelation to connect with God. "The Poet" illustrates one such figure in touch with their soul and thus God, able to hear and set down the "primal warblings" of nature and provide humanity with truth and expression. Yet in a sense, as discussed in "Circles," all our lives are defined by a constant desire to connect with God, illustrated by our need to generate circles, a new way of thinking and acting godly in the world driven by the force of the individual soul. Hence, the severity of the errors of historical Christianity criticized by Emerson in the "Divinity School Address." Religion fails when it no longer provides a living relationship with and means of connection to God; hence the need for a new approach to our relationship with nature and God – that is, Transcendentalism.