Ralph Waldo Emerson, famous Transcendentalist, wrote a number of essays in his long career. The essay “Self-Reliance” is written in Emerson’s early life while “Experience” is written in his later life, after having experienced some personal hardships, such as the loss of his son Waldo. The difference in tone is clear. In “Self-Reliance,” Emerson provides unshadowed advice about life and how to live it on our own. In “Experience,” he is a little more worldly and confused about life. The goal of self-reliance is to indict the idea of following the crowd and society’s influence while vigorously defending the individual.
His passion for his topic is clearly seen and aided by his use of rhetorical questions. Emerson is more arrogant in this essay since he seems to pound the reader over the head with the same ideas about being true to oneself and being self-reliant. However, the eloquence of his writing clearly shows his background on the pulpit. He teaches the ideas of self reliance. As he says, “Whoso must be a man must be a nonconformist” (Emerson). In fact, society itself is in conspiracy against individual men. He clearly delineates the idea that real men have the capacity to change their minds.
“With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do” (Emerson). He urges the reader over and over again to trust oneself. Through this repetition and the repeated use of rhetorical questions, Emerson proves his point to the reader. It is almost a persuasive essay stressing the importance of living one’s life by the tenets of Transcendentalism. While the essay called “Experience” is exactly that. Older and wiser and recently having faced the death of his young son Waldo, Emerson is filled with grief. It is this grief and the act of finding himself again that he writes about in “Experience.
” Therefore, the tone is grief-filled and searching. The beginning of this essay creates a picture of a staircase. The reader cannot see the bottom or top of the staircase. “We wake and find ourselves on a stair; there are stairs below us, which we seem to have ascended; there are stairs above us, many a one, which go upward and out of sight” (Emerson). Emerson uses this image to explain the place where we find ourselves. According to Emerson, life is very confusing and almost impossible to make sense of while we are living it.
Readers will find advice about how to wade through the “trains of moods” with no guiding anchor. By guiding himself out of his own grief, he becomes more pragmatic in tone in talking about “finding everything good is on the highway” (Emerson). Humans tend to think that the great disasters have impact but Emerson says that they do not. In a very pragmatic tone, he asserts, “So is it with this calamity: it does not touch me: some thing which I fancied was a part of me, which could not be torn away without tearing me, nor enlarged without enriching me, falls off from me, and leaves no scar.
It was caducous. I grieve that grief can teach me nothing, nor carry me one step into real nature” (Emerson). Instead of spending one’s time thinking about life, one is meant to live it instead. Humans must strive to live in the real world “accepting our actual companion and experiences” (Emerson). He does end by discussing the concepts of self-reliance in living life. Even in a somewhat upbeat ending, the tone is one of weariness with “Up again, old heart” (Emerson). Through use of tone and content, Emerson is able to share his views in these two very different essays.
In “Self-Reliance” Emerson has the advantage of being young and headstrong. He uses devices like rhetorical questions to persuade his reader into following the ideas of Transcendentalism. In the second essay, “Experience”, Emerson is older and wiser. He talks of the uncertainty of life and how readers must find their way through the twisted maze. He has experienced some things that have lifted his youthful idealism into something much more pragmatic. Rather than talking or philosophizing about life, one should live it. While his tones differ throughout his writing career, his themes remain the same.