The American Scholar



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Notes on: “The American Scholar”


  • To make the ‘One Man’ whole it takes a whole society of man, because just as the hand is divided into 5 fingers. Man has been divided from ‘One Man’ into men.

  • Man is only partially the ‘One Man’.

  • Man is so caught up in his own world that he is oblivious to the whole world around him, and is only concerned with his portion of the world.

  • The essay gives an example of a farmer, who sees his farm equipment, and nothing beyond. He becomes a farmer and lives to be a farmer, instead of being a Man on the farm, living to be a man.

  • “Man is thus metamorphosed into a thing, into many things.”

  • Another example the essay gives on man being caught up in society is “The priest becomes a form; the attorney, a statute-book; the mechanic, a machine; the sailor, a rope of a ship.”




  • The essay then goes to explain the thinking of man.

  • In the right state of mind a man is “Man Thinking”, which means man is thinking for himself and not just going through the thoughts and ideas as an everyday man of society would

  • But when man is in the degenerate state, a victim of society, he tends to become a common mere thinker.




  • “The American Scholar” also explains how the thoughts and ideas of man are categorized and are put into groups, and therefore are not looked at much “outside the box”

  • As the essay says “Classification begins. To the young mind, everything is individual, stands by itself.”

  • The essay is explaining that Man is taught to think “inside the box”, but this way of thought is developed over time and over the course of a man’s life

  • But naturally young minds think “outside the box”. Therefore there is no classification of their ideas, and ways of thinking.

  • As the essay says, The ambitious soul goes through every refractory fact, and one after another reduces all strange constitutions, and is put into a classification.

  • the young mind is therefore related to the theme “Man thinking” because the young mind hasn’t adapted to the everyday way of thinking with society. And is in the right mind most of the time when at a young age.

The next point the essay makes is the great influence of the past



  • As the Essay states “The next great influence into the spirit of the scholar is the mind of the Past

  • Books are a great influence on the past since they are written in an earlier point in time by scholars generations before our generation

  • Although, books are by no means perfect since they are written by man.

  • As the essay states “As no air-pump can by any means make a perfect vacuum, so neither can any artist entirely exclude the conventional, the local, the perishable from his book, or write a book of pure thought that shall be as efficient in all respects to a remote future generations, as to contemporaries, or rather to the second age.”

  • great and heroic men have existed who had almost no other information other than books.

  • As the essay says “Colleges, in like manner, have their indispensable office,—to teach elements. But they can only highly serve us when they aim not to drill, but to create;

  • This part of the essay is saying that reading and just remembering is not what helps us become better scholars. But readings that provoke the mind to think and create thought are what help us become better scholars.

Another point this essays states is



  • Scholars are more practical than the so-called “practical man” who is fit more for physical labor than thinking

  • Scholars are thought of as weak and recluse men because they seek actions through thought instead of through physical labor

  • As the essay quotes The preamble of thought, the transition through which it passes from the unconscious to the conscious, is action.

  • If it were only for a vocabulary, the scholar would be jealous of action. Life is their dictionary.

  • This means that the scholar’s actions are through how they put life into words. Not what big words they use about life.

  • But the final value of action, like that of books, and better than books, is, that it is a resource. Books are a great resource of scholar’s thoughts that have been written in books about the past.

  • And books also help keep a man thinking in the right state and not with society.




  • The essay at this point has spoken about the education of the scholar by Nature, by books, and by action. And now explains the scholars’ duties.

  • This part of the essay explains that if man can master any law of his private thoughts then he is master to all men whos language he speaks. And all men whos language can be translated into his own.

  • There is thought to be a difference of ideas which predominate over consecutive remarkable periods in time and there are data for marking the genius of the Classic, of the Romantic, and now of the Reflective or Philosophical age. With the views I have intimated of the oneness or the identity of the mind through all individuals this essay does not dwell on these differences.

  • But this essay believes an individual passes through all three periods of time in their lives.

  • For example as the essay states: The boy is a Greek; the youth, romantic; the adult, reflective.

  • This states that a man goes through a classical stage in his youngest years, and as a teenager goes through his romantic years of life, and as an adult the reflective years of a mans life comes.




  • The essay then ends stating the importance of independence saying: We will walk on our own feet; we will work with our own hands; we will speak our own minds.



This helps tie in the main theme of the essay “Man thinking”, because it stresses the importance of independence. And not just being the everyday common American man. But an American Scholar.


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