Emerson lays out a abstract problem that he attempts to solve throughout the essay: that humans do not fully accept nature's beauty and all that it has to offer. According to Emerson, people are distracted by the world around them; nature gives to humans, but humans do not reciprocate. Emerson breaks his essay into eight sections—-Nature, Commodity, Beauty, Language, Discipline, Idealism, Spirit and Prospects—-each of which sheds a different perspective on the relationship between humans and nature.
According to Emerson, humans must take themselves away from society's flaws and distractions in order to experience the "wholeness" with nature for which they are naturally suited. Emerson believes that solitude is the only way humans can fully adhere to what nature has to offer. Reflecting upon this idea of solitude, and humans' search for it, Emerson states, "To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. I am not solitary whilst I read and write, though nobody is with me. But if a man would be alone, let him look at the stars." Clearly, a person must allow nature to "take him away," society can destroy humans' wholeness. Nature and humans must create a reciprocal relationship, "Nature, in its ministry to man, is not only the material, but is also the process and the result. All the parts incessantly work into each other's hands for the profit of man. The wind sows the seed; the sun evaporates the sea; the wind blows the vapor to the field; the ice, on the other side of the planet, condenses rain on this; the rain feeds the plant; the plant feeds the animal; and thus the endless circulations of the divine charity nourish man," as Jefferson says, nature and humans need each other to be beneficial. This relationship that Emerson depicts is somewhat spiritual; humans must recognize the spirit of nature, and accept it as the Universal Being. "Nature is not fixed but fluid. Spirit alters, moulds, makes it. The immobility or bruteness of nature, is the absence of spirit; to pure spirit, it is fluid, it is volatile, it is obedient." Emerson explains that nature is not "fixed or fluid;" to a pure spirit, nature is everything.
Although highly metaphorical, "Nature" creates such a different perspective towards one's view of nature. Emerson abstractly speaks to everyone; metaphorically creating common ground. Emerson uses spirituality as a major theme in his essay, "Nature". Emerson believed in reimagining the divine as something large and visible, which he referred to as nature; such an idea is known as transcendentalism, in which one perceives anew God and their body, and becomes one with their surroundings. Emerson confidently exemplifies transcendentalism, stating, "From the earth, as a shore, I look out into that silent sea. I seem to partake its rapid transformations: the active enchantment reaches my dust, and I dilate and conspire with the morning wind", proving that humans and wind are one. Emerson referred to nature as the "Universal Being"; he believed that there was a spiritual sense of the natural world around him. Depicting this sense of "Universal Being", Emerson states, "The aspect of nature is devout. Like the figure of Jesus, she stands with bended head, and hands folded upon the breast. The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship".
According to Emerson, there were three spiritual problems addressed about nature for humans to solve, "What is matter? Hence is it? And Whereto?". What is matter? Matter is a phenomenon, not a substance; rather, nature is something that is experienced by humans, and grows with humans' emotions. Whence is it and Whereto? Such questions can be answered with a single answer, nature's spirit is expressed through humans, "Therefore, that spirit, that is, the Supreme Being, does not build up nature around us, but puts it forth through us", states Emerson. Emerson clearly depicts that everything must be spiritual and moral, in which there should be goodness between nature and humans.
_____________________________________"The American Scholar" (1837)
Emerson uses Transcendentalist and Romantic views to get his points across by explaining a true American scholar's relationship to nature. There are a few key points he makes that flesh out this vision:
We are all fragments, "as the hand is divided into fingers", of a greater creature, which is mankind itself, "a doctrine ever new and sublime."
An individual may live in either of two states. In one, the busy, "divided" or "degenerate" state, he does not "possess himself" but identifies with his occupation or a monotonous action; in the other, "right" state, he is elevated to "Man", at one with all mankind.
To achieve this higher state of mind, the modern American scholar must reject old ideas and think for him or herself, to become "Man Thinking" rather than "a mere thinker, or still worse, the parrot of other men's thinking", "the victim of society", "the sluggard intellect of this continent".
"The American Scholar" has an obligation, as "Man Thinking", within this "One Man" concept, to see the world clearly, not severely influenced by traditional/historical views, and to broaden his understanding of the world from fresh eyes, to "defer never to the popular cry."
The scholar's education consists of three influences:
I. Nature as the most important influence on the mind
II. The Past manifest in books
III. Action and its relation to experience
The last, unnumbered part of the text is devoted to Emerson's view on the "Duties" of the American Scholar who has become the "Man Thinking."
Self-Reliance is Ralph Waldo Emerson's compilation of many years' works and the archetype for his transcendental philosophies. Emerson presupposes that the mind is initially subject to an unhappy conformism. Throughout the essay he gives a defense for his famous catch-phrase "Trust thyself". This argument follows three major points: the self-contained genius, the disapproval of the world, and the value of self-worth.
In the first section, Emerson argues that inside of each person is genius. He writes: "To believe your own thought, to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men, — that is genius." The remainder of this section is spent exploring this concept. Emerson claims that examples of people who trusted themselves above all else include Moses, Plato, and Milton.
Emerson continues by decrying the effects that society has upon the individual. He says that when people are influenced by society, they will compromise their values in order to retain a foolish character to the world. He states: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines." When a man adheres blindly to thoughts or opinions he has vocalized in the past, purely for the sake of seeming true to his principles, Emerson argues that he violates his nature. A man must be willing, every day, to open his conciousness to his intuition, whether or not what it tells him is in conflict with prior conclusions he had come to. The essay concludes with a discussion of the value of self-worth. Emerson states that "man is timid and apologetic; he is no longer upright; he dares not say 'I think,' 'I am,' but quotes some saint or sage." This section contains arguments which are similar to the modern ideals of self-esteem being based upon a person's intrinsic character rather than any external party.
Throughout this essay, Emerson argues against conformity with the world. He gives an archetype for his own transcendental beliefs, but also argues for his slogan "trust thyself". To follow Emerson's self-reliant credo fully, one must learn to hear and obey what is most true within their heart, and both think and act independent of popular opinion and social pressure.