Thoreau

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Thoreau’s Walden Essay, Research Paper Henry David Thoreau was a rebel. Walden can be seen as an account of his rebellion. By the 1840’s, life had changed throughout New England, even in the heart of America’s rebellion, Concord, Massachusetts. Thoreau wrote that “I have traveled a good deal in Concord” (Krutch 108). He knew what he saw there, and what he saw, he began to despise. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation” (111). In 1775, ordinary men had dared to take up arms of rebellion and strike a blow for independence and freedom (Bowes 123-124). Yet, in the space of few decades, the combined forces of materialism and technology had subdued the children and grandchildren of these freedom fighters and reduced them “to slave-drivers of themselves”

(Krutch 110). Henry rebelled and deliberately sought a new life in which he could be free and independent. He decided to leave Concord and seek answers to the mysteries of life in the solitude of the woods and the beauty of the pond. On July 4, 1845, the anniversary of the proclamation of the United States’ independence, Thoreau went to Walden pond to proclaim his own independence (Literary 397). If the people of Concord had been swept up by the speed of technology and the lure of money and property, Henry would separate himself from these attractive deceptions and seek out the reality of nature’s truths, and “not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear, nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it

was quite necessary” (Krutch 172). The quality of life throughout America was rapidly changing when Henry cast his critical eye on Concord. Where others saw progress and prosperity, he saw wastefulness and poverty. “We live meanly, like ants” (173). The transcendentalists were deeply concerned about the quality of life in America. A great tide of material prosperity, checked only temporarily by the crises of 1837 and 1839 and the ensuing Sweeney 2 depression, had overtaken the country. Everything was expanding by leaps and bounds. Virgin territories were being opened to settlement from Illinois to Oregon. Turnpikes, canals, steamboats, railroads were rushed into being. The fur trade, overseas commerce, whaling, the cotton culture of the South, the factories of the North

were bringing wealth to a happy nation. It was an era of good feeling, a time when the common man seemed to be getting his share of creature comforts. Yet sensitive observers feared that all was not well. It appeared not likely that care for man’s intellectual and spiritual nature might be submerged into the rush for easy riches. What would be the profit in all this material advance if it were not matched by an equal progress in humanity? So the transcendentalists pondered (Damrush et al. 6-7). Thoreau’s response was to awaken from the deadly sleep brought on by the hum of the machine and the pillow of the dollar bills. Our life is frittered away by detail. An honest man has hardly need to count more than his ten fingers, or in extreme cases he may add his ten toes, and lump

the rest. 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. In the midst of this chopping sea of civilized life, such are the clouds and storms and quicksands and thousand-and-one items to be allowed for, that a man has to live, if he would not founder and go to the bottom and make his port at all, by dead reckoning, and he must be a great calculator indeed who succeeds. Simplify, simplify. Instead of three meals a day, if it be necessary eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportion. (Krutch 173) Thoreau believed life to be too complicated and such things as internal improvements to be nothing