Emerson’s Use of Metaphor

Emerson’s “Experience” begins with a short poem about “the lords of life”, and speaking of the “little man” being led by the hand of nature, implies that the person that goes against the grain is the true “founder.”  This metaphor at the onset of his essay is an accurate representation of Emerson’s tactics to convey several points on the thinking of human beings.  One could very easily see the metaphor “The grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” being originally contrived from this essay.  This essay seems to be centralized on individualism and uses metaphors of religion, nature and history to drive different points home.  While his many points could be argued across many different philosophical points, his use of metaphor throughout is an engaging and thought-provoking way to reel in a reader.


One of the best metaphors was his metaphor of “The Fall of Man.”  The true fall of humankind, to Emerson, was the realization that we exist.  His analogy is that good an evil is simply a shadow that an individual casts, and that we have no means of “correcting these colored and distorting lenses.”  The diversity of every single human being also gives cause to bring marriage into the picture.  He says that “marriage is impossible, because of the inequality between every subject and every object.”  A metaphor he seems to reproduce in “Circles” is that each two human beings “are like globes, which can touch only in a point, and whilst they remain in contact, all other points of each of the spheres are inert.”  This metaphor values the individual, and while Emerson does seem to value socializing between two individuals, he does make a strong argument towards being happy with one’s elf.  He seems to fashion the essay slightly around the death of his son, almost implying that he did not grieve for him when he died.  In a way one can see the roots of transcendentalism in this essay.  Emerson notes that if you expect nothing, every good thing that comes your way is viewed as a gift.


Using powerful metaphors is something Emerson seems to relish doing throughout all of his essays.  In his tendency to run a bit off track with his reasoning, these essays bring the reader back to the original point he is making, allowing them to catch up with his train of thought and link his points into the overall message of the essay.  Without this metaphorical “coloring” in the essay, his points could easily be lost or his message skewed.

One thought on “Emerson’s Use of Metaphor

  1. That metaphor of contact in Circles also suggests a limit of individuality that is picked up in Experience. A good point about metaphors coloring the essay–a rhetorical element, but also part of the philosophy of Experience–think of the beads coloring our perception. Do you see any of this in American Scholar?

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