Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "Self-Reliance," encourages individuals to follow their natural instincts and ideas rather than conforming to the often false consistency and ideals of society. The essay is divided into three major divisions: the values and barriers of self-reliance, self-reliance and the individual, and self-reliance and society.
The essay begins with Emerson stating that it is far more beneficial for an individual to think for oneself rather than to blindly accept the opinions of others. In this first section of "Self-Reliance," Emerson elaborates on the child-like nature that one must nurture in order to reach mature individualism. Children lack the hesitation, cynicism, and fears, making them far less capable of being coerced into a particular way of thinking, and much more likely to follow their own inner voices.
In the second section, Self-Reliance and the Individual, Emerson offers suggestions for individuals who are seeking the transcendent nature of self-reliance. Focusing deeply on what he believes to be a damaging practice, Emerson discusses how humans focus too much on the achievements and glory of heroes, elites and the worth of objects. Worth is created by humans, therefore the self-reliant person is one who sees the value in all things, especially in knowledge and adventure. He urges individuals to avoid politeness, comfort and hypocrisy for truth, integrity and honesty.
In the final section of Emerson's essay, he discusses the benefits that self-reliant people can bring to society. He focuses on the need for self-reliance in religion, culture, the arts and society as a whole.