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Henry David Thoreau

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... poll tax which he claimed would go to finance the Mexican War and ... 'clogging the meshes of governmental gears and winning sympathy through martyrdom, ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Henry David Thoreau


1
Henry David Thoreau
  • American Literature I
  • Fall 2007

2
Thoreau
  • Born July 12, 1817 in Concord, Mass.
  • 3 siblings
  • Helen, older sister
  • John , older brother
  • Sophia, younger sister
  • Little is known about his youth
  • Strong background in natural history and reading

3
Thoreau
  • Familys religious background
  • varying between the Trinitarian and Unitarian
    churches
  • HD never joined any church
  • Went to Harvard in 1833 (16 years old)
  • Became a teacher (1837)
  • Opened a private school (1838-41)
  • Brother John made it a success

4
Thoreau
  • Only romance he had occurred around this time.
  • Fell in love with and proposed to Ellen Sewall
  • Dear John letter

5
Thoreau
  • In 1841, Emerson invited Thoreau to be his
    handyman.
  • Free room and board
  • Emerson ran The Dial and gradually turned the
    editing over to Thoreau.
  • Also became friend of Hawthorne.

6
Thoreau
  • 1845-47
  • Lived in a small house he built himself on the
    shore of Walden Pond.
  • 1846
  • Traveled to Maine and climbed Mt. Katahdin
  • Spent a night in jail for refusing to pay a poll
    tax

7
  • First book published in 1849, A Week on the
    Concord Merrimack Rivers
  • records trip with older brother John
  • Resistance to Civil Government (Civil
    Disobedience) published same year

8
Thoreau
  • Journals, esp. up to 1850, filled with
    Transcendental philosophy.
  • Best known account is the Sounds chapter in
    Walden
  • As he grew older, was transcending his senses
    less and less.

9
Thoreau
  • Americas greatest nature writer.
  • Has had a remarkable influence on the development
    of the natural history essay
  • Was the first American writers on Nature to
    realize that the natural history essay could be
    something more than a mere reporting of natural
    phenomena observed
  • Was the first to make the natural history essay a
    definite and separate literary form

10
Thoreau
  • Difference between him and other nature writers
  • Natural history was never his primary interest.
  • It was always a means toward an end.
  • His basic concern was not with nature itself but
    with mans place in nature.

11
Thoreau
  • Religion
  • Interested in a universal religion based on the
    high point of all the religions in the world.
  • found as much value in Confucianism, Buddhism,
    and other major Oriental religions as he did in
    Christianity.

12
Thoreau
  • Believed throughout life that all reform must
    come from within and cannot be imposed by any
    outside force.
  • We cannot reform society we can reform only the
    individual.
  • When each individual reforms himself, then the
    reformation of society will automatically grow.

13
Thoreau
  • Was also a lecturer during his 23 or so years as
    a writer.
  • Wrote 23 lectures
  • Published all but 7 of the 23
  • Delivered them around 70-74 times

14
Thoreau
  • Died in 1862 of tuberculosis at age 44.
  • On his deathbed, he expressed no regrets for the
    life he had lived.
  • Aunt asked him, Have you made your peace with
    God?
  • His reply We never quarreled.

15
Thoreau
  • By 1866, four books of his writings were in print
  • Edited and published by his sister Sophia.
  • His journal was published in 1906

16
Thoreau
  • Writing strongly influenced by Emerson, but he is
    not simply a lesser Emerson.
  • He has his own unique voice.

17
Thoreau
  • Exuberant prose style passionate
  • Flints Pond! Such is the poverty of our
    nomenclature. What right had the unclean and
    stupid farmer, whose farm butted on this sky
    water, whose shores he ruthlessly laid bare, to
    give his name to it? Some skin-flint, who loved
    better the reflecting surface of a dollar, or a
    bright cent, in which he could see his own brazen
    face (Walden )

18
Thoreau
  • Joyful exclamation
  • The first sparrow of spring! The year beginning
    with younger hope than ever! (Walden )
  • Sarcastic
  • I rejoice that there are owls. Let them do the
    idiotic and maniacal hooting for men. (Walden )

19
Thoreau
  • Humor dry wit
  • I have a great deal of company in my house
    especially in the morning when nobody calls.
    (Walden)
  • But not many words passed between us, for he had
    grown deaf in his later years, but he
    occasionally hummed a psalm, which harmonized
    well enough with my philosophy. (Walden)

20
Thoreau
  • Imagery
  • Time is the stream I go a-fishing in. (Walden)
  • In short, a snowdrift is formed where there is a
    lull in the wind, so, one would say, where there
    is a lull of truth, an institution springs up.
    But the truth blows right on over it,
    nevertheless, and at length blows it down.
    (Life without Principle)

21
Thoreau
  • Activism
  • Confronted controversial issues in his life and
    work.
  • Gave slave a runaway slave a hideout
  • His concept of protest through withdrawal and
    resistance
  • Civil Disobedience

22
Walden
  • Henry David Thoreau

23
Walden
  • Thoreaus second book
  • Thoreaus last book in his lifetime
  • Based on Thoreaus experiences at Walden Pond
    from July 4, 1845, to Sept. 6, 1847.
  • Experiences condensed into one year in book.
  • Published in August of 1854

24
Walden
  • Covers four related, but distinct matters
  • The life of quiet desperation which most men
    lead.
  • The economic fallacy which is responsible for the
    situation in which they find themselves.
  • What the life close to nature is and what rewards
    it offers
  • The higher laws which man begins to perceive
    (through some transcendental process) if he stays
    in touch with nature.

25
Walden
  • I do not propose to write an ode to dejection,
    but to brag as lustily as a chanticleer in the
    morning, standing on his roost, of only to waken
    up my neighbor.

26
Walden
  • Reason for writing Walden is frequently
    misunderstood.
  • He states explicitly several times that he is
    writing for a limited audience.
  • If you are satisfied with you own way of life
    this is not the book for you.
  • But if you are leading a life of quiet
    desperation, Thoreau is offering you a way out.

27
Walden
  • Thoreau is not advocating that we all abandon our
    cities and homes and families and go out into the
    wilderness to live in huts and meditate in
    nature.
  • I would not have anyone adopt MY mode of living
    on any account for besides that before he has
    fairly learned it I may have found out another
    for myself (Walden)

28
Walden
  • Thoreau is not advocating we abandon civilization
  • we are in great haste to get nowhere to do
    nothing. Since we have invented time savers, let
    us make the most of them.

29
Walden
  • Explaining why he went to the pond to live, he
    wrote
  • I went to the woods because I wished to live
    deliberately, to front only the essential facts
    of life, and see if I could not learn what it had
    to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover
    that I had not lived.

30
Walden
  • He was not an escapist from civilization.
  • cabin was only 2 miles from town
  • 20 miles from the hub of the universe
    (Boston).
  • The railroad went by one end of the pond
  • the highway passed within sight of his garden.

31
Walden
  • Mornings
  • took his bath in the pond and then hoed in his
    garden, Making the earth say beans instead of
    grass.
  • stormy days or winter mornings he read or wrote
  • Afternoons
  • spent wandering through the Concord woods or
    boating on its ponds and rivers.
  • Evenings
  • devoted to his friends with either a trip to the
    village or by having a few guests in his cabin.

32
Walden
  • After 2 years, he had accomplished his set task
    and
  • left the woods for as good a reason as I went
    there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had
    several more lives to live, and could not spare
    any more time for that one.

33
Walden
  • http//thoreau.eserver.org/survey.html

34
Civil Disobedience
35
Civil Disobedience
  • Summer of 1846
  • Thoreau was arrested and jailed for non-payment
    of his poll tax which he claimed would go to
    finance the Mexican War and were, in his mind,
    immoral.

36
Civil Disobedience
  • He spent only one night in jail but those few
    hours resulted in his most famous and most
    influential single essay Civil Disobedience

37
Civil Disobedience
  • Resistance to Civil Government
  • Original title Thoreau gave this essay when he
    published it in 1849.

38
Civil Disobedience
  • The chief interest of the modern reader
  • his definition of the line between individual
    prerogative and the power of the state.
  • He universalizes his experience, seeking not so
    much to justify his own actions and motives, as
    to illuminate the principles that provide the
    cutting edge that separates individual rights
    from state authority.

39
Civil Disobedience
  • Defiant reaffirmation of the individualism of
    man, of his moral obligation to restate his
    individualism and to act on it.
  • Government at its best is an expediency.
  • That government is best which governs not at
    all.

40
Civil Disobedience
  • Slavery is to him a moral issue and a government
    that condones it has no authority over him.
  • Every good man must constitute a majority of one
    to resist tyranny and evil.
  • He goes back to the 18th century idea of a
    higher law which accords supremacy to
    individual morality.

41
Civil Disobedience
  • Thoreaus chief purpose was to persuade men to
    return again to the superior standard of absolute
    truth.
  • When moral law and governmental law come into
    conflict
  • it is not desirable to cultivate a respect for
    the law, so much as for the right.

42
Civil Disobedience
  • The most effective method of defending it
    practicing civil defense
  • refusing to pay taxes, go to jail if necessary
  • clogging the meshes of governmental gears and
    winning sympathy through martyrdom, making an
    aroused citizenry aware of the wrong and will to
    right it.

43
Civil Disobedience
  • Thoreaus presentation has been widely printed
    and is perhaps more frequently read than any
    other work by him.
  • Although not an original idea
  • Outside the U.S., Thoreau is probably more widely
    know as the author of CD than of Walden.

44
Civil Disobedience
  • He has been influential worldwide.
  • It was Gandhis guidebook for his campaign to
    free India from British rule.

45
Civil Disobedience
  • He has been influential worldwide.
  • Was used as handbook of political action in early
    days of the British Labor Party in England.

46
Civil Disobedience
  • He has been influential worldwide.
  • Resistance movements under Nazi occupation in
    Europe in 1940s.

47
Civil Disobedience
  • He has been influential worldwide.
  • More recently used by blacks for struggles for
    Civil Rights in the South
  • Martin Luther King, Jr.
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