What is the theme of R. W. Emerson’s essay ‘Gifts’?

The essay ‘Gifts’ written by Emerson, revolves around the idealizing and the involvement of the ‘act of judgment’ while gift-receiving or gift-giving. Emerson detests the thought of purchasing a gift for giving away on some occasion for he feels that such a gift fails to build up an emotional connect between the giver and the receiver, and the gift stoops to the level of being a ‘mere commodity.’ He dwells upon the virtues of selfless giving and defines gift as ‘a portion of thyself.’

The essay begins with the quote, “Gifts of ones ….. for shame.” Herein, Emerson begins with emphasizing the importance of love and exchanging love as the only worthy way of ‘giving’ a gift to someone. He states that a person yearns for love from others. Till there is love between people, they present gifts to each other. But when love disappears, gifts cease to come. Emerson says that such melting away of love is highly unfortunate.

Giving away articles, commodities, etc. as gifts, convey no amount of personal sentiment or sacrifice attached to it, rather, the giver expects the receiver to love it merely for its monetary worth. Emerson says that one must gift a part of oneself as a gift, for it will speak volumes about the love and the emotional bond shared between the two and further help to enhance it. He says by stating examples that when a poet brings his poem, a shephered brings a lamb from his herd, a farmer brings a portion of his harvest, a miner gets a gem, sailor gets coral and shells, painter when gets a picture and a girl when gets a self sewed handkerchief as a gift, then the giver parts with a portion of his own self. Such gifts are valued and received with utter warmth and delight as they touch the heart. In terms of monetary value, such gifts may relatively be insignificant, but for the recipient they are priceless and an absolute treasure.

Emerson, here, highlights a fact that the culture of gifting comes with a risk, be it for the gift-giver or the gift receiver, hence one needs to act upon judgement. To avoid such a discord, he again emphasizes upon the true spirit of gifting, which is nothing more than the flow of mutual love between the gift-giver and its receiver.

Hence, ‘the power of love, he says, is a genius gift and the best of all.’ To him, love is all encompassing and universally sought. A gift that baths in love should be accepted with utmost joy.

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