The American Scholar (Ralph Waldo Emerson)
Ralph Waldo Emerson’s “The American Scholar” In “The American Scholar,” Ralph Waldo Emerson characterizes the nature of the American scholar in three categories: nature, books, and action. The scholar is one who nature mystifies, because one must be engrossed with nature before he can appreciate it. In nature, man learns to tie things together; trees sprout from roots, leaves grow on trees, and so on. Man learns how to classify the things in nature- which simplifies things in his mind (section I). Books, to the scholar, should only be used as a link to gathering information about the past.
For these books do not give a definite factual account of the past; they provide information for man to form his own opinions. These books were written by men who already had formulated ideas in their heads spawned by other books. Man must look to these books for inspiration in creating his own thoughts. He must use all the possible resources available to get every side and every opinion out there. When man creates his own thoughts, using every source to aid him in his thinking, only then will the scholar be learned (section II).
Although not as important, the scholar must also take action. He must fill each and every moment of the day. The scholar should work different jobs and learn new professions. Then he will learn new languages in which to illustrate his thoughts. The scholar should teach his knowledge to men, teach them facts versus appearances. To do this, the scholar must trust himself, never willing to give in to popular opinion. He should never seek money or power, or let either sway his judgment. His actions are a reflection of his character, and “character is higher than intellect” (Section III).
Furthermore, the nature of the scholar is the gender of man. Emerson makes a division of the “man thinking” and the woman. He writes, “I have heard it said that the clergy . . . the scholars of their day–are addressed as women” (Section III). In the context of this quote, Emerson is saying that clergymen were the scholars of the past, and that society degraded them. Emerson chooses to use women as the degraded image. Therefore, women cannot be scholars since he uses them as this negative image.
Multiplied by the fact that throughout this piece, Emerson constantly uses the terms “the man,” “man thinking,” and the pronouns “his,” and “himself. ” Herein lies the hypocrisy of Emerson, which by his own words displays how he is not a scholar, a man thinking. Emerson says that the scholar should take all the information from society available and use this to make up his own mind (Section II). During this time, society equated women as not being equal in intellect to men. Yet women writers like Mary Rowlandson, Elizabeth Ashbridge, and Sarah Kemble Knight, were writing narratives just as good as men.
They displayed that they equaled the intellect of men. However, Emerson does not give women the credit or equality that is due to them. “In the degenerate state, when the victim of society, he tends to become a mere thinker, or, still worse, the parrot of other men’s thinking” (Before Section I). In regard to the equality he gives women, Emerson has become the parrot he describes. In today’s day and age a lot of these ideas seem extreme and foreign, especially in America. The most prominent stands out as the issue of equality among men and women.
Although America is not perfect in this area, it is getting better and better everyday. Emerson would be astounded to see the way women have risen to the top of the social spectrum in all areas of life- the household, in their careers, in politics, and internationally. Not to say that men have not had to win battles, those of women have been much more trying and have brought a spirit of unity that I do not believe men have with one another. So, if there were to be a new theme written for the Scholar today, the largest thing to change would be the views of women in society.
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