The essay by Ralph Waldo Emerson called “The American Scholar” is a basis for the speech he gave in Cambridge in front of Phi Beta Kappa Society in the summer of 1837. The speech includes several parts and elaborates on the meaning and duties of the American scholar.
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The essay begins with a fable about people and their multiple functions, which are supposed to be practiced by everyone equally, but there is an imbalance, so some workers become reduced only to physical labor and some – only to mental work. Further, Emerson views the scholar, or the Man Thinking, from three different aspects and explores the scholar’s relationship with nature, books, and action. In the final part of the essay, Emerson discusses the duties of the scholar.
Viewing scholars and their relationship with nature, Emerson notices that it is important to accept nature as one, without dividing it into categories and classes. The author says that the scholar should explore the nature in themselves, and “he shall see, that nature is the opposite of the soul, answering to it part for part. One is a seal, and one is print” (Emerson, par. 9). This means that the laws of nature are the laws within us, the order we see in nature is inflicted by us, and this is why it can be comprehended.
Emerson views books as the wisdom of the past, the knowledge documented by our forefathers, trying to pass the precious insights. However, in the essay, it is said that believing that the scholar’s duty is to accept the book knowledge as dogmas are wrong. This is the prerogative of a bookworm, but not the Man Thinking (Emerson, par. 14). Emerson says that book-learned people lose their connection with nature, and this is why they miss out on a lot of pure sources of information necessary for Man Thinking.
Emerson also establishes that action is another highly important aspect of the scholar’s life because it is useful for his mind. The essay says, “Action is with the scholar subordinate, but it is essential. Without it, he is not yet a man. Without it, though can never ripen into truth” (Emerson, par. 21). The author notices that only action can present the scholar with the gift of experience. He writes, “Instantly we know whose words are loaded with life, and whose not” (Emerson, par. 21).
Emerson concludes that all of the three main influences on the mind of a scholar – nature, books, and action are the three essential components that form Man Thinking. Besides, all of these influences also represent limitless sources of knowledge.
Studying the world around and nature, learning from books and the wisdom of previous generations and practicing the scholar provides themselves with multidimensional personal development and gradually turns into a harmonious human being, fulfilling all of its functions. According to Emerson, this kind of being is the ultimate goal of any educated person, something any student should work and hope to become.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. The American Scholar. 3 Sep. 2009. Web. 28 Sep, 2014. <http://www.emersoncentral.com/amscholar.htm>