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Emerson, Whitman & Fitzgerald on Individualism

Americans have long prided themselves on their individualism and on the way individualism is protected by their Constitution and promoted by their culture. Different ideas of individualism are embodied in the works of Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose individualism was both socially acceptable and aligned with the larger philosophy of transcendentalism; F. Scott Fitzgerald, who shows how the individual needs a social position in spite of a belief in and dedication to individuality; and that of Walt Whitman, which retains an aura of being somewhat self-absorbed and at the same time somewhat socially suspect. Each of these writers, however, is celebrating in his own way the American belief in personal ability and self-worth, embodied by Emerson in his idea of self-reliance, by Fitzgerald in the American dream, and by Whitman in his analysis of himself as an example of Everyman.

Ralph Waldo Emerson expresses his philosophy in essays and poems extolling the virtues of nature, elevating the concept of self-reliance, and showing a dedication to mystical beliefs in the interconnectedness of human life with nature. Self-reliance is an American virtue that Emerson describes at length in his writings, including in an essay titled "Self-Reliance" and a poem with the same name. Emerson was a transcendentalist with a particular view of how human beings could commune with nature and who they were to turn inward to seek strength from themselves. He makes clear in the essay "Self-Reliance" what he means by the term and how he sees this as a major virtue for human life when he cites some verse offering the following advice: "To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men--that is genius" (492).

Emerson as a poet was one who viewed his work as deriving largely from argument, thought, and experience. He said that these are the things that should determine form. He wanted to express ideas...

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