Who is Emerson’s audience in “Self-Reliance”?

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Who is Emerson’s audience in “Self-Reliance”?

Emerson’s target audience in “Self-Reliance” is the American reading public, although his ideas arguably have a particular value to younger people.

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Emerson’s target audience for his essay “Self-Reliance,” first published in 1841 in his volume Essays: First Series, is the American reading public. In the essay, Emerson does not explicitly define his intended audience, but there are elements which suggest that he is chiefly addressing younger men.

Emerson speaks to an American audience, though his ideas have universal value. For example, he urges his audiences to be rooted in their home country, despite the urge to travel to Europe and view the long culture of antiquity. Self-reliance means looking forward, not backward. It is tied to a robust American path of individualism, advising Americans to carve out their own destinies.

Emerson seems to have a particular interest in young Americans. For example, in a passage that suggests his focus is on youth, Emerson writes:

God has armed youth and puberty and manhood no less with its own piquancy and charm, and made it enviable and gracious and its claims not to be put by, if it will stand by itself.

In other words, young men just starting out in life have a special charm that makes it easier for them to get away with following their own path. Society forgives young people for their impetuous individuality.

It may be that Emerson is particularly trying to impart his wisdom young people just as they are forging their lives, urging them to look inward to what their own souls yearn to do. He wants them to trust or rely on what their own hearts are telling them they should do, even if it is unorthodox. As for all people, this is the path to fulfillment and does much more good for society than simply conforming to what other people have decided is right and proper.

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