Literature & Life

The American Scholar

by Ralph Waldo Emerson


On August 31, 1837, at Harvard College near Cambridge, Massachusetts, “The American Scholar” was first delivered as a speech by Ralph Waldo Emerson at the annual meeting of the Literary Society, Phi Beta Kappa. The speech begins with a greeting to the President of the Society and the audience. It examines Emerson’s views on life and the universe. Emerson was greatly influenced by Plato’s ideas about man. He has discussed how the American Scholar learns from nature, books, and what he or she does independently. This lecture was given by Emerson to help the audience grasp the power and responsibilities of an American Scholar. This essay is regarded as an eye opener for the Americans.


 “The American Scholar” is a lecture given at the Phi Beta Kappa Society meeting at Harvard College. The lecture’s purpose is to demonstrate who a scholar is and what he or she is responsible for to the audience. The lecture is divided into two parts. The first section discusses influence on the American Scholar regarding his or her education, and the second section discusses Emerson’s ideas about what a scholar should do. The first section is further divided into three sections. The first section discusses how nature influences us, the second discusses how books influence us, and the third section discusses how actions influence us. The lecture concludes with an analysis of how things were going in America at the time, as well as Emerson’s predictions for the future. In his lecture, he encourages people to let go of Europe’s cultural baggage and create their own works of literature.


 “The American Scholar” explains Swedenborg’s philosophy and how he saw people in relation to the greater man. He claims that there are two types of men: “whole men” and “part men.” “The whole man” is someone who uses his actions and profession to benefit others, whereas “the part man” is someone who uses his actions and profession to make money. A scholar is someone who has been given power and knowledge. The Scholar is the Man Who Thinks. According to Emerson, a scholar can learn from three sources: nature, books, and action. In a scholar’s life, these are the three most important things. Scholars are fascinated by the various parts and objects of nature.

Books are the second source of knowledge for a scholar. Books depict how people thought in the past, or they are works of literature and art that depict how people thought in the past. According to Emerson, “The best way to learn about the past is to read books. Each generation must write books for the next generation, or each age must write books for the next generation.” The best books are those that deal with concepts. The scholar should read books, but not to the point of being controlled by them. Famous writers like Cicero, Locke, and Bacon should not have too much of an influence on young men. Books are like priceless lamps that shine brightly in the darkness of ignorance, reigniting the flame of thought. However, they should not be used in place of the original concept. Emerson believes that the term “American Scholar” has a deeper meaning. He seeks a cure for Puritanism, which he considers to be a disease. Emerson wants every American to be free of the cultural burdens imposed by Europe. He believes that everything should be produced in the United States. As a result, he concentrates on being self-sufficient and unique. Emerson was a staunch opponent of both mental and physical slavery.

The third and most important factor is action. Emerson discusses the importance of action for the American Scholar. A scholar or thinker, he claims, must also be able to get things done. A scholar’s ability to take action is critical. Cowardice is characterised by inaction. Any opportunity for a scholar to do something should be taken. A scholar’s mind is shaped into wonderful things through action. A resource is the monetary value of an action, such as reading a book. When a scholar’s books and thoughts are no longer useful, he or she can turn to action. The subtitle of the essay is “The Man Thinking.” A thinker is distinct from a man-thinker. Emerson’s scholar, on the other hand, is a thinker who is always trying new things, who is dynamic, and who develops his own honesty and destiny. Manhood necessitates the ability to think and act. Work and action are always viewed as valuable and necessary. As a result, action is an essential component of a scholar’s growth and development.


Emerson discusses what a scholar should do in the following section. These jobs require you to think like a man. “It is the scholar’s responsibility to gain self-confidence and self-realization,” he said. Scholars must avoid endorsing popular ideas and beliefs held by respected leaders in society. Paying close attention to life and extracting the truth from the vast number of appearances is one of the most important things a scholar must do. However, he must discover the truth in front of everyone. The Scholar should be self-assured, brave, and fearless. The scholar should not be a neophyte with no knowledge. He should not try to avoid his social and political responsibilities. He shouldn’t just brush off the bad things that happen in the world. Instead of being afraid to speak about them, he should do so. He should become the entire world’s eyes and ears. Great men, according to Emerson, shape people’s minds through what they notice and learn, and ordinary people are drawn to or follow them like the waves of the Atlantic Ocean are drawn to the moon.

In the final section, Emerson discusses culture, the Golden Age, and how the literary test came to be. The scholar’s job is to educate people about various topics. This awareness not only causes people to think differently, but it may also make them more open to the concept of culture in general. Poets, actors, and philosophers, according to Emerson, have only done for us that we can do for ourselves one day. Everyone is made up of a single soul, a single star, or a single central light that shines from thousands of stars and beams from thousands of stars. Emerson, on the other hand, believes that all ages should be combined, and that the distinctions between different eras’ ideas are phoney and superficial. People think of this period as one of self-reflection, but that does not imply that it is also a period of self-pity. We are living in a revolutionary era. The scholar should consider the golden age and strive to achieve it. For the golden age, also known as the age of opportunities, infinite potentials, and limitless possibilities, to begin and grow, the scholar must contribute and do his part.

The next step for a scholar is to create a literary test for society. People believe that the modern age is a sign of the new age’s rise because the lowest class is important in this age, which is a good sign. The common person and the lowest person are today’s literary subjects and themes. The poor literature, children’s feelings, street philosophy, the meaning of family life, and other subjects or themes of modern literature are just a few examples. It encourages people to learn about the poor and common man, and it is the scholar’s job to affect such a shift in modern man’s perspective and attitude. Emmanuel Swedenborg, a Swedish philosopher and mystic poet, is a genius who has contributed significantly to this change and the popularisation of this new way of life. Another sign of the coming age in our time is the importance placed on a single person or an individual. Treating each person with respect and as an important part of the world is a modern way of life.

The scholar is someone who must assume all of the power of the time, all of the past contributions, and all of the hopes for the future. It’s likely that he learned it in college. He should have faith in the abilities of others. The spirit of an American freeman is often misunderstood as shy, conformist, and tame. The United States and its citizens are also thought to be money-hungry. The American Scholar is currently shy, lazy, and eager to please others. The ability to wait is required of the American scholar. With so many good and great people wishing him well, he should be overjoyed. The focus of the literature study will be on how the Divine Soul inspires Man, which is what all men are inspired by. Emerson always pays close attention to the individual man and the scholar’s job, which is to study and deal with the individual as a whole rather than as a component of a system or institution.

To summarise, “The American Scholar” is a manifesto of intellectual independence from European culture’s literary colonialism. Emerson believes that the United States should be proud of its culture. He requests that the American scholar educate the public on the religion of peace, tolerance, and the abolition of slavery.

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