A person described as intellectual, brilliant, clever, or creative are considered geniuses, but more than just intelligence can contribute to the idea of genius. In Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay, Self-Reliance, the concept of a “genius” is explored through explaining what defines and what makes an Emersonian Genius. Ralph Waldo Emerson was an American essayist and philosopher. He was born May 25, 1803 in Boston and died April 27, 1882. Emerson was all about originality and creativity. He encouraged others to stop imitating ideas and styles from previous philosophers or writers. This idea came form the philosophy of transcendentalism. Emerson was one of the core leaders of the movement and his essays were based off of this idea. Emerson claims that a genius is, “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.” (Emerson) In order to be a genius a person must first believe in himself and have originality, and to not conform to all of society’s “rules” that everyone seems to follow. The big question is, whether the Emersonian genius is freer or more enslaved than his counterpart. In many books, there are characters that represent the Emersonian genius and ones that do not.
The dystopian novel, Anthem, written by Ayn Rand has the character and protagonist Equality 7-2521. Eqaulity 7-2521 knows that there is more to life than just streeetsweeping. In his world no one knows the word “I”, if someone wanted to talk about themleves, he would use the word “We” and Equality 7-2521 felt a part of him was missing. Equality 7-2521 knew something was wrong with the way he lived. To escape this feeling he would secretly conduct experiments in an underground tunnel and when he discovered electricity he wanted to present his findings to the home of scholars. After Equlaity 7-2521 is rejected form the home, he flees from his town and goes to the “Uncharted Forest”. There he finds out who he is, he learns the words “I” and ego. Equality 7-2521 then renames himself, Prometheus. After learning this new information Prometheus has found who he is, and that his his ego is a big part of that.
Prometheus is a perfect example of the archetypal Emersonian genius. He did not want to live in a society in which everyone had to act, talk, and live exactly the same way. Prometheus longed for somehing else, it was eating away at him until he broke. That moment set him free from the brainwashed society he lived in. He wanted to be different than everyone else, he hated that he was indistinguisable from the others. Emerson says “To believe your own thought…” it is what makes one unique. In Eqaulity 7-2521 society no one idviduality, meaning not one person had a chance at creativity.
Prometheus is an Emersonian genius due to the fact that he did everything he could to find out what he was, he found his ego. When he discovered the new words, he was enlightend to learn about his identity after twenty years of questions and no answers. “Later on discovering his sense of self, he began to rebuild the society form the ‘Unmentionable times’ to one where freedom was open to all.” (Johnson) He created when working on his experiment and when he recreated his own society. He also wondered and was curious unlike his aquaintances. These qualities made him different and an Emersonian genius in which he believed his own ideas and thoughts in his heart.
On the otherhand, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison the character Pecola Breedlove is an antithetical Emersonian genius. Pecola Breedlove is an eleven-year-old African-American girl who has black-like features that she hates. Her one desire is to have blonde hair and blue eyes. She wants this more than anything so she is not made fun of anymore. She wants to look the same as a white girl so she can be accepted and not laughed at. Pecola always felt out of place and unwanted. She tried to change to what society approved of, but lost something far more valuable than her acceptance.
Pecola Breedlove was only a young girl and the beauty standards of her time got in the way of her childhood. She is the anti Emersonian genius as a result of not believing in herself and conforming to the “rules” of public’s eye. Pecola thought if she were to look different, then she would happy. This mentality will surely alter the mind into believing lies. If Pecola stood up for herself against her bullies she would have had a different life. Bullies were not the only problem in her life; her parents abused each other and her own father impregnated her. Pecola had no willpower and she allowed for these things to happen. “…Pecola Breedlove is an innocent flower cut off by the failure of America.” (Byers 26) Her society did this to her, not directly but indirectly through racism and the beauty standards of the 1940s. This little girl had unfortunate events happen in her life, which led to losing her sanity.
The anti Emersonian genius would never feel satisfied with who he is and would definitely not believe in himself. That is exactly who Pecola Breedlove was. She had no desires to love her self for who she was. She hated that she was original and different. Pecola did not want to stand out and create something. She only wanted blonde hair, blue eyes, and light skin. If she had gotten that then maybe she would have loved herself, or the same way wishing to alter something else. Pecola was everything but an Emersonian genius. Her going insane is proof that self-hating can lead to a distorted view of reality. For example, when this happened to Pecola she believed that everyone was jealous of her blue eyes, but she had never actually received any. Her reality had changed completely.
In, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, Frederick Douglass is also an Emersonian genius. Frederick Douglass was a slave in America, but he was a different. Frederick was able to observe, understand, and analyze concepts and deeper meanings others were not capable of doing. Like Equality 7-2521, Frederick knew a piece of him was missing and that he was meant to be more than just a slave. A slave having a thought like this could surely get them in trouble, so Douglass kept it to himself. Frederick was first inspired to learn when he moved to the city. His owner’s wife taught him the alphabet before she changed after her husband told her that teaching a slave to read or write would make him rebellious. Frederick listened close when he said this and always remembered it.