Study Guide of “The American Scholar”

Summary of “The American Scholar”

Emerson is one of America’s greatest writers. His works achieved widespread appreciation among readers as a transcendentalist and religious teacher. He is also a brilliant thinker and philosopher. He has received numerous honours and prizes for his writing accomplishments. His lectures on literature, philosophy, and transcendentalism have earned widespread acclaim and are highly popular to this day. The mandatory prose piece, The American Scholar, is a well-known work that has been forced to compete with his Self Reliance in terms of acceptance. The American Scholar is based on a speech given at Harward College in 1837. It is aptly referred to as the “Intellectual Declaration of American Independence.” Emerson developed his transcendentalism in the tradition of German Romantic Philosophy. He believes that both the human spirit and the universe are manifestations of God. He was a pioneer in embracing eastern concept of life.
Emerson opens his talk by claiming that America’s training phase for developing its literary career is concluded and that the country should no longer be reliant on European literary traditions. The time has come for the literary community to develop its own literary foundation and become’self-sufficient’ within it. He is a firm believer in the need of celebrating American life and experience through American poetry and literature. As a result, Emerson seeks out newer perspectives that will shed light on the American Scholar’s ambitions and character.
He recalls the legend that “in the beginning, the gods divided man into men in order for him to be more beneficial to himself.” “The fable implies,” Emerson continues, “that the individual must occasionally return from his own labour to embrace all the other labourers.” However, this original unit, this fountain of power, has been so widely spread, so minutely fragmented and marketed, that it has been poured into drips and cannot be gathered.” What we have then in the “divided or social state” is a state in which “Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing, into many things,” but is nowhere near complete. According to Emerson, three factors impact the American Scholar or Man Thinking: Nature, Books, and Action.

The American Scholar can absorb in his soul the facts presented by Nature through his study of nature. Emerson views nature as a teacher to the aspiring scholar; “this school-boy beneath the bending dome of day” correlates to the purposes of nature that he enumerates and explains in Nature. He is particularly thinking about the final of these functions, “discipline,” by which he means something akin to “teaching”: nature teaches us via its vastness and variety and invites us to examine and apprehend its complexity using our lower intellectual faculty, comprehension. It becomes the seal, and the scholar’s soul is the print that has retained all of the seal’s impressions, i.e. Nature. Promulgating his concept of books (or what he refers to as “the mind of the Past”), Emerson notes that the author of a book, having observed the world around him, creates a novel arrangement of facts, which eventually takes the form of the book. As such, a book is a transformation of life and the world into a collection of truths. It possesses the traits of purity and invincibility. However, no book can be described as flawless.

Emerson concludes this part with the following note: “Of course, there is a portion of reading that is absolutely necessary for a wise man.” He must study history and precise science through painstaking reading.” Even still, in reverting to the fundamentals, Emerson had a dig at Harvard: “Colleges can only serve us if they aim not to drill, but to create.” Given that the conventional Harvard method entailed endless mind-numbing recitation sections, his implication is self-evident.

The third influence affecting the development of a scholar is action. Though action may take a back seat to scholarship, it is critical for the scholar. Without action, thought would never mature into truth. Through action and experience, one must attempt to comprehend life and this world. A man’s actions may result in drudgery, irritation, and desire. However, these priceless events inspire a plethora of concepts. Thus, man can be assured of his growth as he progresses from action to experience and from experience to cognition.

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Emerson outlines the responsibilities of the American Scholar, stating that the scholar must encourage, raise, and guide mankind by revealing the actuality of things hidden in darker surroundings. The scholar must constantly monitor his private observatory for a few facts that will correct old and erroneous beliefs. He should also be able to classify and categorise the human mind’s murky and foggy thoughts in order to transform them into spectacular and valuable belongings in times of need.

The American Scholar should avoid cheap displays and be prepared to suffer poverty and solitude, as well as self-reliance and self-restraint. He should be guided by his faculties of reason and intuition, as Emerson connects the two. He must elevate himself beyond personal concerns and inhale only magnificent thoughts, as he is both the world’s eye and heart. The world will always make incorrect judgments by declaring a popgun shot to be crack of doom. However, the scholar should avoid such errors and disputes. Only in a state of stillness, steadiness, and abstraction is he capable of adding observation to observation. Above all, the scholar must be self-sufficient and courageous.

Emerson concludes this amazing speech by emphasising the scholar’s autonomy. “The world is nothing, but man is everything.” The American Scholar’s primary mission is to confront and dare anything. This untested belief in man’s might belongs entirely to the American Scholar. Rather from being timid, imitative, and docile, he should demonstrate that he is Man thinking and indomitable. Self-confidence is critical for both individuals and nations. They should resolve to stand on their own two feet and voice their minds freely.

Analysis of the Essay “The American Scholar”

On 31 August 1837, “The American Scholar” was delivered at Harvard as a formal lecture. Emerson was given only approximately two months notice to make this presentation, but he incorporated his thoughts about what a scholar should be in a new society like America, concepts that had been building in his head for some time. ” I should write for the Cambridge men [Harvard was a college in Cambridge , Massachusetts] a theory of the scholar’s office” Emerson stated in a July 1837 diary entry. “It is not all books which it behoves him [the scholar] to know,” Emerson remarked, “least of all to be a bookworshipper” Rather than that, what was critical was that the scholar be “able to read in all books that which alone gives value to books…..to read the incorruptible text of truth.”

The essay is significant, first and foremost, because it claims what has been dubbed a “new spirit of intellectual nationalism” in America. Numerous early American authors believed that their works were inferior to those created in England and Europe. Emerson, on the other hand, stated that “We [i.e., Americans] have listened too long to the courtly muses of Europe” and that the time had come for the new American scholar to express his own thoughts and establish a heritage of American thought. Emerson’s spirit is the reason for the essay’s justifiable fame. Emerson’s contemporary, American poet Oliver Wendell Holmes, lauded the essay, referring to it as a “intellectual Declaration of Independence.” Another eminent poet and critic of the day remarked in the same vein: “We remained socially and intellectually tethered to English thought until Emerson severed the wire and exposed us to the perils and splendours of the blue water.

The Essay’s Central Theme


Emerson’s intention in authoring “The American Scholar” was twofold–to identify not just the authentically “American” (as opposed to English or European) scholar, but also to articulate his views on the job and functions of such a scholar. These concepts are laid out in the essay’s first seven paragraphs, which serve as a sort of introduction to the entire article. Emerson opens his topic by referring to a “old fable” (really Platonic in origin) in which the gods divide “Man” into “men” in order for “he might be more helpful to himself” the analogy being that the hand is divided into fingers in order for labour to be done more efficiently. This parable argues that, just as there is one hand composed of several different fingers, there is one man composed of numerous individual persons. Emerson laments, however, that in America, man has become split into distinct people, each of whom carries out his own activity in isolation from the rest. This has resulted in the dispersal of the One Man’s original unity, and instead of being ” priest, and scholar, and statesman, and producer, and soldier” all at once, Man has devolved into numerous “men” each performing his function independently of the job performed by the others. As Emerson puts it, contemporary society is “one in which the members have suffered amputation from the trunk, and strut about so many walking monsters—a good finger, a neck, a stomach, an elbow, but never a man.”
In this condition of the social state, in which the “original unit” (man) has been “minutely subdivided” the Scholar has degenerated into the “delegated intellect.” Emerson asserts that while the Scholar should be “Man thinking” he has degenerated into “a mere thinker, or still worse, the Parrot of other men’s thinking.” However, Emerson believes that this downward trend is reversible, and that the American scholar can still become One Man in his mind provided he is open to three major influences–those of Nature, the Past (Books), and the Future (Action). The essay’s subsequent paragraphs are devoted to a discussion and extension of Emerson’s perspective on these significant influences.

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The Three Influences

Emerson asserts that the rising and setting of the sun, the arrival of night and the stars, the blowing of the wind and the growth of the grass all demonstrate that Nature is a continuous, never-ending process, a “web” created by God that has no beginning or end and is a “circular power returning into itself.” The scholar is the one who is most captivated by the spectacle of Nature. The scholar observes Nature and realises that it is composed of thousands of seemingly disparate and even contradictory things. And in comprehending this, he realises that Nature is not chaotic but contains a law of oneness, which is also referred to as the ” law of the human mind.” Nature therefore becomes ” the measure of his attainments” since the less he learns about Nature, the less he knows about his own intellect. And, as Emerson summarises, “Thus, the ancient precept ‘know thyself’ and the contemporary precept ‘Study nature’ ” signify the same thing.
The second critical impact on the scholar’s intellect is the Past, whether embodied in or inscribed in literature, art, or any other human institution. However, Emerson’s essay singles out books as the ” the best type of the influence of the past,” and he devotes the majority of his discussion to them. According to Emerson, books were generated out of man’s experience of the world and were the product of a process of sublimation in which “short-lived actions,” “business” and “dead fact” were converted into “immortal thoughts,” “poetry” and “quick thought.” However, no book is flawless, which is why fresh books for and by each new generation of men must be published. Indeed, if one loses sight of the fact that no book is perfect, one is unavoidably tempted to revere literature produced in the past and confuse dogma with truth. Books written on the basis of a blind acceptance of what has been stated in the past are not works of “Not of “men of [lesser] talent,” but of “men who believe it is their duty to accept the view articulated by Cicero, Locke, and Bacon, forgetting that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were all young men working in libraries at the time they wrote these books. Emerson refers to these persons as “bookworms,” since they blindly revere books and believe everything contained inside them to be true “‘.

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Emerson argues that books should be used to encourage man’s “active soul” Thus, the truly valuable relationship is one between man and nature, one that results in the transmutation of “life into truth.” Thus Emerson states categorically: “Books are reserved for the scholar’s leisure hours. When he has the ability to read God directly, the hour is far too valuable to waste on other men’s transcriptions of their readings.” While Emerson acknowledges that history and “exact science” must be acquired by “laborious reading” he argues that such study is beneficial only if it helps to the scholar’s ability to think independently. Thus, books (as well as the past) are beneficial insofar as they inspire the scholar: “Genius looks forward; the eyes of a man are set in the forehead, not in his hind-head.”

Emerson then discusses the third significant impact on the scholar–that of the Future or of Action. Emerson suggests that a scholar should not be a recluse, but rather a man of action, for without activity— “”Handiwork or public labor”—”Thought can never become truth.” “Action is the raw material from which the intellect fashions her magnificent creations,” and hence the scholar who engages in proper action benefits from receiving “the richest return of understanding.”” Finally, the importance of action stems from the fact that if “thinking is the function” “living is the functionary.” Simply put, this indicates that even if the scholar loses his capacity for intellect, he can always live an active life.

The Scholar’s Responsibilities

After discussing the three factors necessary for the growth of the American scholar, Emerson argues that “the scholar’s office is to cheer, raise, and guide them by revealing facts amidst appearances.” He is required to undertake “the show, unhonoured and unpaid task of observation.” Additionally, the scholar must voluntarily accept a life of poverty and seclusion. However, he receives the recognition that he is ” the world’s eye….the heart.” He is the communicator and herald of “whatever new verdict reason from her inviolable seat pronounces on the passing men and events of to-day.” The scholar’s comments have an influence on his audience because they understand that by “going down into the secret of his own mind, he has descended into the secrets of all minds.” the scholar has gone into the secrets of all minds. Thus, the scholar’s audience “drink his words, because he fulfils for them their own nature.” However, Emerson’s essential argument is that at the heart of all the scholar’s abilities is “self-trust” or self-confidence and conviction, which “are the keys to success in every sphere of life.”
Apart from this, a scholar’s other obligation is to be fearless. Dread is always the result of ignorance, Emerson adds, and the scholar must possess the self-confidence to be able to influence other men with his ideas, to illuminate them, and thus to liberate them from fear. Emerson emphasises that the majority of humans are “no account” only “bugs” and “spawn” “the man” and “the herd” The majority of people, too, are enslaved by money and power. However, if they are awakened, “they shall quit the false good and leap to the true.” And Emerson argues that the scholar is the individual capable of bringing this waking about. Thus, the scholar’s primary job is “the upbuilding of a man”

The Essay’s Concluding Section

Emerson concludes this amazing speech by emphasising the scholar’s autonomy. “The world is nothing, but man is everything.” The American Scholar’s primary mission is to confront and dare anything. This untested belief in man’s might belongs entirely to the American Scholar. Rather from being timid, imitative, and docile, he should demonstrate that he is Man thinking and indomitable. Self-confidence is critical for both individuals and nations. They should resolve to stand on their own two feet and voice their minds freely.

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