Summary and Analysis of The Over-Soul Paragraphs 1-3


In this first section, Emerson introduces the theme of accessibility, familiar to readers of his other essays. God is accessible to all people, whether they actively seek a personal spirituality or not. Recalling More's belief that moral ideas are innate, Emerson asserts that there exists a "spirit of prophecy which is innate in every man." God resides in each soul, which in turn pays homage back to God.

Emerson emphasizes the theme of the many and the one when he points out that, because each of us has a soul that encompasses God, each soul represents the many other souls present in the world: "Meantime within man is the soul of the whole; the wise silence; the universal beauty, to which every part and particle is equally related; the eternal One."

Another theme presented in the introduction is the need for moral actions that demonstrate what language falls short of doing; these actions help us understand what the power, or source, is that Emerson keeps referring to. He admits that he cannot put into words what this power is: "My words do not carry its august sense; they fall short and cold." Because we cannot understand — using language — the God within us, all we can do is demonstrate this presence by how we live our lives — by our actions and our characters. Understanding rests on our being moral people, whose "right action" is submissive to the Over-Soul and to the "common heart" that we share collectively.

In the thesis, the last sentence of the third paragraph, Emerson states that despite the difficulty of the task, he will define the Over-Soul. In addition, he will "report what hints" of this transcendental force he has found in his life and in society. Readers should note the clarity of Emerson's thesis as a stylistic example of good writing.