Find one way to connect an aspect of Emerson's “Self-Reliance” to something we have already read together. Talk about this similarity in terms of one of the following categories:

  • The essay's form
  • The essay's content
  • The author's voice
  • Assumptions that the author seems to make about the reader

In his famous “Self-Reliance,” which is chock-full of popularly quoted lines, Emerson makes the case that many individual (and hence, societal) ills stem from avoiding one's own voice. There's irony, then, in popular misapplications of his. For instance, “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds” is oft employed to deride consistency as such, when that's hardly Emerson's meaning (Emerson, 4). He's after a foolish consistency and has already established what he means by it: “A reverence for our past act or word” (Emerson, 4). Consistency can signify no more than that one was right the first time; Emerson means to recommend against acting in accordance with one's past actions for the purpose of appearing consistent over time, for the same reasons he proscribes acting in accordance with external tradition or doctrine. If one were to judge a familiar situation anew, and one's actions then happened to match one's historical record, Emerson would hardly take exception.

The larger purpose of “Self-Reliance,” famous quotes aside, is to prescribe a method of thought and action by exalting it. Greatness, holds Emerson, requires that one act in accordance with one's nature. This is nearly tautological: the former is the realization of the latter and vice versa. It is nonetheless useful, for Emerson suggests that this way of being is valuable on its own merits. In particular, he points at the primacy of solitude: “It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude” (Emerson, 3). It is no small challenge to hear one's own voice over the din, and to walk in one's own direction among the fray.

Simic, in his “Reading Philosophy at Night,” holds solitude in similarly high regard, but has an additional reason. There is one's own thinking to be performed, with which Emerson would concur, and then there is previous thinking with which one might wish to commune. Simic himself comes to understand this on reading Heidegger, and quotes him: “No thinker has ever entered into another thinker's solitude. Yet it is only from its solitude that all thinking, in a hidden mode, speaks to the thinking that comes after or that went before” (Simic, 141). Certainly, on the face of it, Emerson would warn us not to seek insight in the written insight of others, especially since “all that we say is the far-off remembering of the intuition” (Emerson, 7). But Simic also quite clearly cares not for borrowing anyone's conclusions – else he needn't have stayed up so late! – and says as much: “What I am trying to conceptualize with the help of the philosopher is that which I have already intuited” (Simic, 136-137). One suspects that Emerson, over his strenuous assertions, might yet find validity in Simic's reliance on his own “primary wisdom” (Emerson, 6).

There is further irony in an essay, written to persuade, entitled “Self-Reliance.” Given the inherent paradox, how persuasive could its arguments be? Emerson addresses this at the outset. “The soul always hears an admonition in such lines, let the subject be what it may. The sentiment they instil is of more value than any thought they may contain” (Emerson, 1). The force of Emerson's sentiment makes it possible to entertain ignoring the gaping logical flaw in the whole undertaking; having read it, one might feel so strongly in its rectitude that how one came to feel that way no longer matters.