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Becki Reibman

Block 1

There are some ideas that are universal, no matter how long ago they were first

put into words. When these ideas are expressed using persuasive techniques and

strategies, become truly timeless. Emerson’s oration, The American Scholar, exemplifies

this. In this essay, Emerson persuades the reader that a student, in order to be a true

American Scholar, must combine learning from nature, books, and experience. He uses a

tone appropriate to his audience, employs the use of any number of persuasive

techniques, and divides his main argument into three concise and well-explained sections.

Emerson’s first point of argument is the necessity of learning from nature. In this

section of his oration, he upholds that in order to “Know thyself,” one must “Study

nature.” According to Emerson, it is to nature--to the wind, to the grass, to flowers and

trees--that one compares himself, and is thus able to discover attributes about himself. It

is this comparison that Emerson uses to effectively persuade his point. Throughout this

section, he emphasizes the similarity between the soul and nature; nature’s laws are

similar to the actions of a thinker. “Nature is the opposite of the soul,” Emerson says,

implying that they mirror each other and one springs from the other.

In the second division of the argument, Emerson details the importance of books,

or the past. He begins with saying that we must use books to learn from the learnings of

the past. However, he asserts that books must be used with precaution. “Books are the

best of things, well used; abused, among the worst,” Emerson says. The chiastic approach

to this quote places the word ‘worst’ at the end of the sentence, thus emphasizing this

word in particular. In this section, Emerson also foreshadows his third point; “Meek
young men grow up in libraries, believing it their duty to accept the views, which Cicero,

which Locke, which Bacon, have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were

only young men in libraries, when they wrote these books,” he says, setting the audience

up for the argument that one must pursue experience as well as books and nature.

Through the rest of the section, Emerson argues about the “right way of reading,” that

one must read but always look forward, and that how dangerous wrong reading is, correct

reading is that much more important.

The third influence of the mind that Emerson discusses is action. Action, he says,

is essential and “Inaction is cowardice.” He goes on to say that thought comes from

action and that all one knows in life is from experience. He argues that, “Drudgery,

calamity, exasperation, want, are instructors in eloquence and wisdom,” meaning that to

fully understand something and be wise about it, one must experience it. Additionally,

Emerson uses an effective metaphor in the section, comparing the formulation of thought

from actions and events to the metamorphosis of a caterpillar to a butterfly. He again uses

metaphor stating that, “Life is our dictionary.” Another technique Emerson uses in this

section is parallel structure, or anaphora, when he says, “That great principle of

Undulation in nature, that shows itself in the inspiring and expiring of breath; in desire

and satiety; in the ebb and flow of the sea; in day and night; in heat and cold.” This

repetition of structure emphasizes the opposites of each example, further explaining the

idea of undulation in nature, which he uses to expand upon the similarity of nature and

the soul originally mentioned in the first point of his argument.

In summarizing these three influences on the mind, Emerson discusses the duties

of a scholar to combine them. He stresses the importance of learning from these

influences, but also trusting oneself and not being afraid to be a non-conformist. Using

literary devices, examples that pertain to his audience, and an overall effective use of

language, Emerson combines many universal ideas to create the uniform and timeless

idea of the American scholar.