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The Politics of Emerson's Man-Making Words

David Leverenz
PMLA
Vol. 101, No. 1 (Jan., 1986), pp. 38-56
DOI: 10.2307/462534
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/462534
Page Count: 19
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The Politics of Emerson's Man-Making Words
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Abstract

Emerson's prose speaks to American expectations for becoming a man. His most forceful rhetoric unmans the manly types, particularly his censorious father, with an imperious nonchalance. Emerson's "man-making words" also transform the class conflicts that intensified the ideology of manhood from 1825 to 1850. Dreaming of a new elite, Emerson challenges social definitions of manhood and power. He does not, however, question the code that joins manhood with power at the expense of intimacy. When power fails him, as "Experience" recounts, his seeming candor masks an evasive note of depressive accusation directed at the women who take care of him. To emphasize Emerson's class and gender politics deflates his reputation somewhat. As "representative man" he represents only a liberal tradition that mystifies conflicts. Yet we can see him more clearly as a man, struggling with himself as well as with his time.

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