Summary and Analysis of The Over-Soul
Paragraphs 22-30 - The Soul and the Individual
In this final section, Emerson discusses the importance of individual character as a defining measure of the Over-Soul. A person who is spiritually close to the Over-Soul has a virtuous character and performs noble acts because the Over-Soul influences these actions: "If he have found his centre, the Deity will shine through him, through all the disguises of ignorance, of ungenial temperament, of unfavorable circumstance." The image of the Deity shining like a light through individuals invokes many biblical references to God as light, of which Psalm 27 is but one apt example: "The Lord is my light and my salvation . . ."
One of Emerson's favorite themes is distinguishing between proper and improper learning. He draws on this theme when he states that the scholar or poet who bases opinions on his own experience speaks "from within," but the scholar or poet who imitates rather than creates speaks "from without." The divine spirit we feel in our souls is relational to the divine sense we feel when we read a poem whose message transcends time.
One of the greatest examples of Emerson's theme of accessibility is in this last section and deserves special attention. Always the democratic man, Emerson's belief in the right of every man and woman to be rewarded for an honest life's work is unshakable: "But the soul that ascends to worship the great God, is plain and true; has no rose-color, no fine friends, no chivalry, no adventures; does not want admiration; dwells in the hour that now is, in the earnest experience of the common day." The person who lives an uncluttered life will be rewarded with immortality, a notion similar to Emerson's assertion in "Self-Reliance" that the individual least swayed by society's trappings will live the most fulfilling of lives.
This democratic ideal of all people benefiting equally if only they will shed the temptations of a materialistic life is evident throughout Western civilization's history. Perhaps the best-known version of this ideal is the Sermon on the Mount, especially these lines: "Blessed are the poor in spirit; / The kingdom of Heaven is theirs. / . . . / Blessed are the gentle; / they shall have the earth for their possession." In American literature, one of the best examples comes from Emerson's contemporary, Henry David Thoreau, who wrote in the "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For" chapter of Walden: "Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! I say, let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand; instead of a million count half a dozen, and keep your accounts on your thumb nail."
Emerson's own contributions to this democratic ideal of equality so uniquely American are great. Not many writers can challenge his talent for a brevity of sentence that contains such daring power as this: "The simplest person, who in his integrity worships God, becomes God"; or "Behold, it saith, I am born into the great, the universal mind. I the imperfect, adore my own Perfect."