Emerson and Transcendentalism 

Study Aid

General Questions

  • What is Transcendentalism?—What events in American history/ideas in American culture  might have led to its development.  Be sure and cite any sources you consult to answer this question.


  • According to Emerson, how does /should a person define his/her place in society?


Reading Emerson’s “Self-Reliance”

  • What are the main ideas in the essay (at least 3)


  • What is the author’s argument/intention in this essay?


  • When was this piece written? Does this essay reveal anything about American culture (values, attitudes, behaviors) at the time it was written?


  • Are the values, attitudes and behaviors of American culture the same today? (Don’t just answer yes or no—be specific.)


  • Translate the following key sentences from the essay into your own words:

“Speak your latent conviction and it shall be the universal sense. .

“We but half express ourselves and are ashamed of that divine idea which each of us represents.”

“Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members.”

“Nothing is at last sacred but the integrity of your own mind.”

“What I must do, is all that concerns me, not what the people think.”

“A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do.

“The centuries are conspirators against the sanity and authority of the soul.”