Rhetorical Devices in Self-Reliance

Rhetorical Devices Examples in Self-Reliance:

Self-Reliance 5

"I hope in these days we have heard the last of conformity and consistency...."   (Self-Reliance)

This alludes to Newton’s Third Law that claims “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” In this context, Emerson argues that people can look only within themselves to improve their own lives. No amount of money, machinery, or work can achieve progress, only the fact of knowing and being your most accurate, individual self. The passage makes use of parallelism, a rhetorical device in which multiple phrases are expressed in the same manner, even if they are contrary.

"There is no Lethe for this...."   (Self-Reliance)

In Greek mythology, Lethe is the river of forgetfulness which winds through the underworld. Emerson alludes to Lethe to make the point that once one grows up, one cannot forget the responsibilities and restraints of adulthood that have been thrust upon her. Notice how short this sentence is compared to the previous one. This noticeable variation in sentence length is a rhetorical device that emphasizes a point by surprising the reader.

"no kernel of nourishing corn can come to him but through his toil bestowed on that plot of ground which is given to him to till...."   (Self-Reliance)

This metaphor explains that people cannot expect that brilliance and success will come strictly from education and waiting for greatness to come; rather, one’s greatest intelligence comes from using the life and the brain they were given at birth. This is an example of a delayed sentence, a rhetorical device in which the central phrase of a sentence arrives at the end.

"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...."   (Self-Reliance)

Here Emerson introduces individualism, the most enduring theme of the essay. He uses historical figures to exemplify how some of the greatest philosophers, scientists, diplomats, and artists all created, apparently, brand new branches or aspects of their respective fields. With his repetition of “to believe,” Emerson makes use of anaphora, a rhetorical device that emphasizes through repeated phrasings.

"For every stoic was a stoic; but in Christendom where is the Christian?..."   (Self-Reliance)

Stoicism was a school of philosophical thought developed in Rome in the early centuries of the first millennium. The ideal stoic is a person able to withstand hardship without complaint. Emerson uses this comparison to show how people who follow their own abilities (for example a stoic’s ability to endure discomfort) have strength, whereas Christians (who follow other’s teachings) have become split in many ways. Because Emerson’s question carries an implicit answer and opinion, it serves as a rhetorical question.