Ralph Waldo Emerson's Self Reliance

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Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Self Reliance” (1841) is widely regarded as one of his most influential, contemplated, and enduring pieces of work. The superhero genre stands apart from more traditional academic discussions on “Self Reliance”, but perhaps may be the most effective medium through which to discuss Emerson’s thoughts in the modern day. Within these movies and television shows, audiences witness and applaud a physical manifestation of the genius Emerson discusses in “Self Reliance”. These immensely talented individuals take the law into their own hands, sometimes with unconventional methods to satisfy their moral code. In the tales of fictional characters such as Batman or Spider-Man, the ideals of individualism and nonconformity …show more content…
While Batman and Joker supposedly represent the entirely opposite traditional standards of good and evil respectively, both remain utterly alone and at odds with the populace regardless of their intent. Both characters hide their true identities, and possess significant detractors despite fighting for entirely different causes. At this point in the movie, a state of emergency, Batman is seen as a necessary protector of the city, and thus the publics sense of morality favors his actions. However, once the threat has passed and normalcy ensues, such a mindset is unlikely to continue, a fact The Joker points out. Herein lies an inherent sacrifice of living by unwavering ethics in a world dictated by …show more content…
Outside of merely entertaining fans, The Joker also stands as a striking criticism of the ideals presented in Self Reliance. In the opening pages of the essay when Emerson is asked by a friend how someone could live by their impulses if those motivations came from the Devil rather than Heaven, Emerson replies with, “if I am the Devil’s child, I will live then from the Devil” (135). While this quote may appear as a staunch defense of intuition, The Joker represents a man who lives from the Devil and the result is terrifying. Throughout the movie it is made clear that the Joker feels no remorse for his actions and believes his actions are funny and even justified. Thus, despite his horrific crimes, The Joker is technically operating within the parameters of what Emerson defines as self-reliance and non-conformity. People of natural evil unfortunately do exist, and The Joker remains a stark reminder that if everyone is to be judged only by their personal morality, then a society must be willing to accept even the most twisted and deranged of moral codes. Such a stipulation remains among one of the most compelling criticisms of applying the principles “Self Reliance” to an actual

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