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Henry David Thoreau 18171862


Some have suggested that he was declaring his independence from society. ... determined to make a day of it.' Irreverent Humor. Emerson and Thoreau ... – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Henry David Thoreau 18171862

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)
A Short Biography
  • Of the men and women who made Concord the center
    of Transcendentalism, only Thoreau was born
  • He attended Harvard
  • He might have made a career as a school teacher,
    but he resigned rather than inflict corporal
  • He was also a tutor, surveyor, and pencil
  • In 1842, he became a handyman at Ralph Waldo
    Emersons house.

  • In the 1850s, he became an outspoken
  • He was effective enough to be summoned to fill in
    for Frederick Douglas at a convention in Boston.
  • He was an active abolitionist, assisting in the
    movement of slaves toward freedom through the
    Underground Railroad.

  • On July 4, 1845, Thoreau moved into woods owned
    by Ralph Waldo Emerson to write A Week on the
    Concord and Merrimack Rivers.
  • Some have suggested that he was declaring his
    independence from society.
  • Thoreau maintains that the date was by accident.

Thoreaus Journal
  • Thoreau kept a journal while he lived in the
    woods this journal became the basis of Walden.
  • After two years, two months, and two days,
    Thoreau left the woods, returning to care for
    Emersons household.
  • He both went to and left Walden Pond for
    practical reasons.

Approaches to Walden
  • A book about nature--birds, plants, and animals
  • The book is about the life available to people
    living close to nature, living in harmony with
  • A satire on contemporary civilization
  • Thoreau laughs at what the common man takes
    seriously and vice-versa.
  • Thoreaus life was an affront to his nonliterary
    neighbors who had to work and hadnt had the
    privilege of going to Harvard.
  • He had a habit of antagonism.

3. An Aesthetic Object
  • The work is a carefully organized whole.
  • He often alternates themes in chapters.
  • solitude/visitors
  • spiritual/worldly
  • human/animal
  • Thoreau spent 26 months at Walden. The book
    takes only one year and includes incidents that
    didnt even happen at Walden.
  • The persona he creates is pleasing, both arrogant
    and modest.

4. A Lifestyle Experiment
  • What happens if one withdraws from routine to
    see what life is about?
  • Habitlt-------------------------gtDeliberation
  • Inauthenticlt-----------------------gtAuthentic
  • Deathlt-----------------------------gtLife
  • Shamslt-------------------------gtNecessities
  • Simplify, simplify, simplify!
  • Thoreaus purpose is ultimately philosophical or

Limitations of Thoreaus Approach
  • Thoreau was single.
  • Thoreau was a man.
  • Thoreau didnt have dependent parents.
  • There was no IRS.

Resistance to Civil Government
  • On a trip into town to get a shoe fixed, Thoreau
    was asked to pay his poll-tax.
  • He refused, saying he did not wish to support a
    government waging war against Mexico or one that
    supported slavery.
  • He spent one night in jail. Someone, probably
    his mother, paid the poll tax for him.

Influence of Civil Disobedience
  • Thoreaus writing about the incident has been of
    lasting social and political importance.
  • Many decades passed before anyone explicitly
    acted on the essays radical advice.
  • In 1906, Mahatma Gandhi, in his African exile,
    read it and made it a major document in his
    struggle for Indian independence.
  • In the United States, civil rights leaders such
    as Martin Luther King, Jr. tested his tactics of
    Civil Disobedience.

Literary Devices used by Thoreau
  • Vivid metaphors--making the words live
  • Word Play
  • From Chapter 1 of Walden I was determined to
    know beans.
  • From Chapter 2 Let us rise early and fast, or
    break fast . . . determined to make a day of it.
  • Irreverent Humor

Emerson and Thoreau
  • Emerson placed no value on the past. He wanted
    Americans to throw off tradition.
  • Emerson recognized and dismissed evil.
  • Career as a lecturer.
  • Thoreau valued the past, especially books. He
    both quotes and values reading.
  • Thoreau recognized evil and railed against it.
  • No career odd jobs.

Both Thoreau and Emerson inveigh against
business, especially the rising consumer society
devoted to arousing artificial wants.
Thoreaus Lasting Influence
  • Civil Disobedience--Ghandi and Martin Luther
    King, Jr.
  • 1960s and 1970s countercultural concerns for
    experiments in living
  • The general American concern for ecological
    sanity (Don Henley is a disciple.)
  • A model for hands-on approaches to nature--He was
    well-known to important naturalists of his time.
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