Date of Thesis

5-5-2016

Thesis Type

Honors Thesis

Degree Type

Bachelor of Arts

Department

English - Literary Studies

First Advisor

Saundra Kay Morris

Abstract

My research on Ralph Waldo Emerson centers on Emerson's assertion in "Self-Reliance" that "the soul becomes." In other words, the individual is engaged in a dynamic process of growth throughout his or her lifetime. Concentrating predominately on four of Emerson's main texts, my research explores the ways in which Emerson performs this process of growth within his essays. I argue that his inner struggles with himself and the world around him manifest themselves in various ways within his texts, both productively and unproductively. Productively, Emerson writes through his self-doubt and uncertainties, allowing him to arrive at new truths and new convictions. Unproductively, these struggles tend to create contradictions that undermine his message. My work raises questions about Emerson's reasons for including these contradictions that not only undermine his message, but also seem to call into question his entire belief system. Ultimately, I argue that not only are both these manifestations of Emerson's inner struggle, despite fracturing and confusing the text, crucial for his own inner growth, but also the inner growth of the reader. Emerson's readers must struggle to navigate his confusing and contradictory language. Readers must rely on themselves, their own mental processes, to interpret the nonlinear essay, and seek their individualized solution to the text's problems. This indirect way of promoting self-reliance and inner growth within the reader affords his work the organic unity denied by contradictions and lies at the heart of Emerson's immortality and importance for casual readers and revolutionaries alike.

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