Emerson and Thoreau/Vivian Gornick

In the Emerson and Thoreau essay, the authors list and explain things that they believe in. The beliefs alternate between short and brief to long explanations of the belief. The writing is iconoclastic in nature, as many of the beliefs stated went against the conventions of the time, such as feminism, the importance of science as opposed to religion, and racial equality. The writing style appears as if the writers wrote as the thoughts came to them, each well-formulated but not thematically connected to each other. I observed that although both men value science, objectivity, education, but still address religion and divinity (“All writing is by the grace of God” p.91). The beliefs are written with conviction, as if the authors were writing a sermon. This ironic because Emerson and Thoreau were iconoclasts and openly questioned accepted beliefs, yet at the same time spoke their beliefs with such great conviction that it would seem they were preachers spreading the word of God. I observed this when I read the paragraph starting with “Love is necessary…” on page 91. After I read this essay, I came back to the first few sentences on page 90, which said “I like to have a man’s knowledge comprehend more than one class of topics, one row of shelves.” This sentence expresses the authors’ personal belief, seems to be giving advice to the reader to be more knowledgeable, but is also seen in the rest of the essay. Emerson and Thoreau start out by saying that people should be knowledgeable and have opinions on everything, and they take their own advice by expressing beliefs based on their knowledge and observation on various issues. The way Emerson and Thoreau approached writing this resonates with what Vivian Gornick said about the narrative, that narrators must “[transform] low-level self-interest into…detached empathy” (p. 171). Emerson and Thoreau achieve this by making sure not to start off very sentence and paragraph with “I.” They vary the diction and writing perspective (from first-person to third person and vice versa) to keep the essay’s value in the readers’ eyes. I feel that Gornick’s advice to avoid self-interest in narratives can be applied to writing in general, because stories are simply more interesting and palatable to readers if they address the belief in general, and not just state the author’s self-interested opinions.

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