American Literature

Reading Questions: Emerson/Thoreau


Look over the following reading questions BEFORE reading the assignment in order to get a sense of what the instructor wants you to find. Then, after finishing the reading assignment, come back and answer the questions to the best of your ability, making sure to reference your answers according to the content of the reading assignment, not just what you think is true.

  1. Emerson comes from the same New England stock as Franklin, and clearly knew the story of Franklin. How is Franklin's "Self-Made Man" model reflected in Emerson's "Self-Reliance" concept? Be sure to indicate any differences that you might notice as well.
  2. Emerson can often come across to an early reader as arrogant or mean, especially in his rejection of responsibility to the poor. Explain, as best as you can, what Emerson's view towards the poor is and whether or not you feel it is a proper stand or too harsh.
  3. How is Nature connected to this philosophy of Emerson's? What is its place in connection to all of these self-reliant individuals?
  4. At one point, Emerson indicates that society is a wave. Explain this simile.
  5. Why is Thoreau put into jail? Explain whether or not he did the right thing.
  6. Explain the connection between Thoreau's ideas in "Civil Disobedience" and Emerson's ideas in "Self-Reliance."
  7. So, would you classify Thoreau as a revolutionary? After all, he's anti-government, right? Explain, as best as you can, Thoreau's relationship with and feelings towards government.