Project Prospectus

Working Title: Metaphor with a Purpose: Emerson the Antagonistic Writer

Working Statement of Purpose:

The purpose of this essay will be to explore the ways in which Emerson uses metaphor to antagonize his readers. Not only does Emerson use bold statements to make his connections to very heated topics of his time, but he also provides a struggle of thoughts about those topics. Emerson’s writing is never one-sided, and this is due to the fact that he believes there are limitations to everything. Whether it is in nature, thought or action – to Emerson, they all have never ending boundaries in which nothing can be solved or definite.

The antagonistic presence in his writing appears when he addresses limitations, especially in his essay Fate. When looking back at his earlier essays such as The American Scholar, it is interesting to see where he leaves the reader – eyes open, mind kindled, body in motion, but in Fate he seemingly puts a lid on the reader’s previous motivations. However, it only appears as so. What Fate is truly doing, is observing the extreme importance of the “man-thinking,” and the role that thought plays in the fate of an individual. Thinking men are a necessity to human function, and with out them man becomes complacent and limitations suppress him. This is why there always needs to be progression of thought instead of hovering and reiterating the knowledge and philosophies of those that came before. The minds of the past should never be discounted, but should be viewed as contributions towards progression. Where is your contribution? Mankind needs it to go the next round with fate.

Fate and thought are in a constant power struggle, sometimes man is on top, and has come to new realization. However with time, that new realization becomes the old, which in effect makes it the new Fate, the new boundary, the new limitation. As said before, there is no winning the war with thought, but there is no winning the war for Fate either. Fate can send floods, but man has constructed dams. Fate can take the ideas of the past, and make them law, but man can think, and therefore challenge those laws.

With the notion that there is a necessity for thinking man to battle with fate, what better way to combat oneself than with taking the offensive and antagonizing fate? Emerson does this through his writing, and one of the most reoccurring metaphors in his arsenal is alluding to the idea that all men are slaves.


Nothing so marks a man as imaginative expression. A figurative statement arrests attention (298)

-R.W. Emerson, Poetry and Imagination

 The primary aim in Emerson’s life and discourse is to provoke (743)

-Cornell West, The Emersonian Prehistory of American Pragmatism

 the alert reader can discover, and take much pleasure in discovering, remarkable verbal strategies, metaphoric patterns, repetitions, and developments of sound, sense, and image throughout Emerson’s writing (685).

-Joel Porte, The Problem of Emerson

Nor can he blink the freewill. To hazard the contradiction, – freedom is necessary. If you please to plant yourself on the side of Fate, and say, Fate is all: then we say, a part of Fate is the freedom of man. Forever wells up the impulse of choosing and acting in the soul. Intellect annuls Fate. So far as a man thinks, he is free. And though nothing is more disgusting than the crowing about liberty by slaves, as most men are, and the flippant mistaking for freedom of some paper preamble like a “Declaration of Independence,” or the statute right to vote, by those who have never dared to think or to act, yet it is wholesome to man to look not at Fate, but the other way: the practical view is the other.

-R. W. Emerson, Fate

Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood. All is riddle, and the key to a riddle is another riddle” (292)

-R.W. Emerson, Illusions

History is the action and reaction of these two, — Nature and Thought; — two boys pushing each other on the curb-stone of the pavement. Everything is pusher or pushed: and matter and mind are in perpetual tilt and balance, so. Whilst the man is weak, the earth takes up him.

-R. W. Emerson, Fate

December 21, 1823

Who is he that shall control me? Why may not I act & speak & write & think with entire freedom? What am I to the Universe, or, the Universe, what is it to me? Who hath forged the chains of Wrong & Right, of Opinion & Custom? And must I wear them? Is society my anointed King? Or is there any mightier community or any man or more than man, whose slave I am? (485)

-R. W. Emerson, From Journal and Notebooks

 October 9, 1832

I will not live out of me

I will not see with others’ eyes

My good is good my evil ill

I would be free – I cannot be

While I take things as others please to rate them

I dare attempt to lay out my own road(86).

-R. W. Emerson in his Journals, Porte 1982

Meek young men grow up in colleges & believe it is their duty to accept the views which <others ha> books have given & grow up slaves (365).

-R.W. Emerson, The Journals of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. V

 June 19, 1838

Forget the past. Be not the slave of your own past (613).

-R.W. Emerson, Selected Journals 1820-1842

 August 1, 1839:

But I wish to say – at least let our theory not be slavish: let us hope infinitely & accustom ourselves to the reflection that the true Fall of man is the disesteem of man; the true Redemption selftrust; the growth of character is only the enlargement of this, & year by year as we come to our stature we shall inherit not only forms & churches & communities but earth & heaven.

-R. W. Emerson to Harrison G. O. Blake,The Letters of Ralph Waldo Emerson, vol. II

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