Literary canon refers to a collection of aesthetically valued literature works that portray the political and cultural tendencies of a nation or group of people (Tanner 71).
Accordingly, the American literary canon can be described as the collection of literature classics written by authors from the United States; such a collection is widely accepted as the true picture of the American society (Emerson 18). Currently, scholars have not agreed upon any official literary canon, but most literary works are appreciated because they are invaluable to the American culture and history. This is because the United States has many cultural backgrounds which make it impossible to select a single literary canon that can reflect positively on all Americans (Tanner 79). In practice, canons develop as time progresses and the literature works are taught in schools. The curriculum changes on the basis of socio-cultural and historical influences; therefore, literary canons also change. For many decades, many American authors have produced literary works that fall under the American literary canon. These authors include Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Walt Whitman, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville, Mark Twain, Emily Dickinson, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and Toni Morrison among others (Emerson 17). Accordingly, the essay “Self-Reliance” by Ralph Waldo Emerson is an excellent demonstration of an American classic that satisfies the American literary canons as observed in the following discussions.
Firstly, the author used the essay to address the challenges that affected the American society during his time (Tanner 83). This aspect qualifies the essay to belong to the American literature canon. For instance, in the middle of the 19th century, the United States experienced many troubles and challenges. In particular, the country suffered from a brutal economic depression that caused the economy to collapse. These developments made Americans lose their confidence as times became harder. This prompted Ralph Waldo, a transcendental philosopher, to write this essay in which he implored American citizens to trust themselves, look within, and speak their thoughts in hard words (Emerson 11). Moreover, he encouraged them to be self-reliant so that they could not suffer from the failures of systems or others. Accordingly, Self-Reliance remains an invaluable essay in the history of Americans because it helped people to overcome the challenges that threatened their well being.
Secondly, the theme of self-reliance is highly reflective of the American culture of individualism. For instance, individualism refers to the degree of interdependence that exists among the members of the society (Sloan 19). In the United States, self-image is defined as “I” because people tend to focus on personal affairs and the welfare of their direct families only. Americans have no problem interacting with strangers because they rely on themselves to overcome most of their challenges (Emerson 8). In Ralph Waldo’s essay, the author preaches self-reliance where he implores individuals to work hard and fulfill their daily needs rather than relying on others to achieve the same. Accordingly, the essay portrays ‘individualism’ as the key to success among American citizens.
Thirdly, the essay by Ralph Waldo belongs to the American literary canon because it explores how societal dynamics affect the development of members (Sloan 19). For instance, Americans must learn to trust themselves because they have distinct opinions and voices which society aims to silence immediately, and confront others. For example, individuals have voices in solitude, but the voices become inaudible and faint as they enter the world. The primary concern of society is the creation of status and wealth, whereas individuals focus on fulfillment and self-expression (Emerson 12). Practically, an individual would prefer to live a slow life, savor each moment, explore skills and talents and express their opinions. However, society forces people focus their education on career, suppress competition and succeed, and to amass wealth. Therefore, Waldo teaches that the goals of society are ingrained in individuals so they must trust their instincts whenever society talks.
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