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RALPH WALDO EMERSON Discussion Questions … - nature vs nurture discussion questions


As you read in Nature, Emerson considered Nature to be the source of language. Words are derived from "natural facts" and metaphors reflect natural laws (1080, 1083). Emerson expanded on these ideas in his 1844 essay "The Poet" (which is included in your textbook, on pages 1144-1159). Therein he tells us that "the poet is the Namer, or Language-Maker" (1151). The poet is able to hear the "primal warblings" of a perfect, timeless poetry that exists in a spiritual world that we can access through Nature (1146). Therefore, all language is, in a sense, poetry because it all began as poetry; poets are, in a sense, prophets or mystics, transcribing divine music that they can hear better than others can.
Not surprisingly, Emerson considered himself to be a poet, even when he was writing in prose. In an 1835 letter to his wife, he wrote:
"My singing to be sure is very 'husky' and is for the most part in prose. Still I am a poet in the sense of a perceiver & dear lover of the harmonies that are in the soul & in matter, and specially [sic] of the correspondence between these and those." (qtd. in The Liberating Gods: Emerson on Poets and Poetry by John Q. Anderson. Coral Gables, Florida: University of Miami Press, 1971. p.12.)
The four poems we've read emerge from the same artistic and intellectual goals as Nature and "Self-Reliance."
1. In the poem "Each and All," how do the poem's examples serve to support the speaker's assertion that "All are needed by each one; / Nothing is fair or good alone" (lines 11-12)?
2. What conflict is created in the middle of the poem? Why does the speaker say that "'Beauty is unripe childhood's cheat'" (line 38)?
3. What happens at the poem's conclusion? How is the conflict mentioned in the previous question resolved?
4. In "The Rhodora," Emerson uses the wild rhododendron flower, which appears in the Massachusetts forests, to pose the question of whether nature does any useful good if there are no human eyes "for seeing" its beauty. How does he answer that question at the end of the poem?
5. Select either "Uriel" or "Hamatreya" and write several paragraphs in which you discuss how the poem develops ideas familiar to us from Emerson's 1836 book, Nature. You should be specific and support your claims with references to both specific lines of the poem and specific passages of the essay.
We turn now to Emerson's great and influential essay, "Self-Reliance." A prime instance of the lecture Emerson had perfected on the lyceum circuit, this essay might well be read as a clarion call for Americans to make their 1776 Revolution an ongoing cultural project, what Emerson describes as "a revolution in all the offices and relations of men."
Calling on his audience to recover their youthful exuberance and sense of "whim," to recuperate a sense of nonconformity which (he implies) had brought the founders to America from England in the first place, Emerson preaches a key sermon to a nation preparing to answer the call of its "manifest destiny." The essay is above all an argument for individual self-fulfillment: "do your work, and I shall know you. Do your work, and you shall reinforce yourself." Implicated in that argument, though, is a powerful rejection of mass society, with all of its subtle demands for conformity and the maintenance of custom and convention. Socially, Emerson calls for Americans to reject the last residues of European aristocracy and to turn instead to the powers of their "aboriginal self." Politically, he calls for the rejection of party allegiance. Spiritually, for the rejection of sects and denominations. In sum, the essays reacts against any institutionalization in American life--what Emerson derides as "a mob." Against its demands, Emerson presses the case for a radical individualism, a boyish spirit of independence whose best expression, in 19th century American culture, will be found in the figure of Huckleberry Finn, in Mark Twain's novel of 1882. To say this much, however, is really just to open the essay, to begin setting a context for its language and its structure, and for the problems of its argument. To proceed further in the essay, answer the following:
6. If you follow Emerson's verbal "roadsigns" with reasonable care, you'll find his essay to be simply structured. As you read, make notes on that structure, then produce a brief topic outline of "Self-Reliance."
7. Emerson defines society as "a joint-stock company" (page 958) wherein the shareholders give up a certain amount of liberty in order to better secure their "bread." If so, then why does he condemn philanthropy" (on pages 958-59)? A more general way of putting this question: What does Emerson's self-reliance translate into, as a social policy?
8. According to Emerson, where does the "great man" come from, and what validates his truths?
9. How do Emerson's arguments against travel, and property, further his argument for a radical self-reliance?

Why is nurture better than nature? Nurture has a larger effect on us than does nature. Nurture is the characteristic builder that we gain as we grow up. It is what defines our nature and makes us who we are. Nurture cultivates our nature, and it is the main regulator of our being.