A Modern Transcendentalist
The common denominator of the universe is not harmony, but chaos, hostility and murder”. Great minds like Thoreau preached that humanity is harmonious with nature. In reality this was not their point.
They sought nature as an escape from a society they found flaws in.Timothy Treadwell seemed to be truly harmonious with nature. For 13 years he lived among the bears in the Alaskan wilderness. With his video camera, he captured moments much closer, and personal than any journalist could dare. The camera was his only defense from nature. He became an overnight celebrity and activist for animals. In fact Treadwell never charged a fee when he talked at schools. He enjoyed his work so much, it was a passion and a way of life, not a career or scheme. Yet the story behind Treadwell goes much deeper. Treadwell grew up missing something, he felt as if civilization wasn’t for him. After college he turned to alcoholism to “cure” himself from the ever corrupting world. Treadwell’s rage is almost incandescent. He fights civilization itself. Just as Thoreau had in Walden, Tredwell turned to nature to awaken the unwakeable inside him. He seemed to connect with animals in a way he couldn’t connect with people. Treadwell pursued the Alaskan wilderness and quickly became fascinated by bears. He was all alone, except for his video camera. “The camera was his only present companion.
It was his instrument to explore the wilderness around him. But increasingly, it became something more. He started to scrutinize his innermost feelings, his demons, his exhilarations. Facing the lens of a camera took on the quality of a confessional”. In front of his camera, Treadwell seemed to show his inner thoughts. His problems with relationships, and his desire to get away from it all. Treadwell said “I’m in love with my animal friends. I’m in love with my animal friends. I’m in love with my animal friends. I’m very, very troubled”. He knew his problems. It wasn’t ignorance that killed him, Treadwell merely killed himself. Treadwell may just have been the true modern Transcendentalist. Cast out of the same shadows that summoned minds like John Muir and Thoreau into the woods. Muir himself stated “I am losing precious days. I am degenerating into a machine for making money. I am learning nothing in this trivial world of men. I must break away and get out into the mountains to learn the news”. Tired of society these men took to the woods to escape it all. Treadwell was not very different, and I think the wilderness was calling his name. Thoreau wrote in Walden “All men want, not something to do with, but something to do, or rather something to be.” Treadwell needed to be somebody. And his inner struggles from his past made it all worse. Treadwell’s carelessness seems to spark from this very idea. It wasn’t that he wasn’t afraid of the bears, but simply his inner problems were more harmful than the bears in his mind. He was not ignorant, just incompetent. “For once there is weakness they will exploit it; they will take me out; they will decapitate me; they will chop me up into bits and pieces. I’m dead. So far, I persevere” said Treadwell. His hatred for society was deep. He was willing to risk it all to fight for his “cause”.
The only thing stopping him from truly escaping it all was Park Services, who were truly concerned of his well being. To Treadwell, they were the adversary. Treadwell ranted in front of his video camera “How dare they challenge me. How dare they smear me with their campaigns. How dare they, when they do not look after these animals themselves. And I come here in peace and in love—neutral, in respect. I will continue to do this. I will be an American dissident if need be. There’s a patriotic time going on right now, but as far as this fucking American government is concerned: Fuck you, motherfucking park service. Fuck you.” In his mind, Treadwell was a martyr in the fight against society. He knew what he was he doing, but his hatred was so deep. Deep enough that it meant more than his life to him. As the filmmaker Werner Herzog points out, through Treadwell’s camera, he wasn’t capturing wild nature, but the meaning of his life, and frankly death. Treadwell was never able to connect with people well. After college he struggled to make friends, and turned to alcohol. For years he was consumed by alcohol, as if his life had no purpose. In fact his alcoholism was sparked by his isolation. He was never good with women, and I personally believe this is where his problems started. “I’ve always wished I was gay. It would have been a lot easier.” Treadwell said.
In the wilderness, he believed he had finally found true companions; the bears. He named all the bears he encountered, and he centered his life around them. Of course the reality was different. Herzog sums it up perfectly; “I see only the overwhelming indifference of nature. To me, there is no such thing as a secret world of the bears. And this blank stare speaks only of a half-bored interest in food. But for Timothy Treadwell, this bear was a friend, a savior”. Because bears couldn’t criticise Treadwell, they became his dearest friends. He had found his something to be, his pseudo-purpose. Why didn’t the bears attack Treadwell? You may ask. Maybe he was a true companion, and was harmonious with nature? Or maybe it was just natures disinterest in Treadwell because he was such an outsider. As the coroner puts it, the bears might have thought he was retarded, and let him be. Whatever the reason, Treadwell was able to get much closer to the bears, than anyone else in documented history (who wasn’t being attacked). “O God of love, o King of peace. Make wars throughout the world to cease”. These very words from a hymn written in 1697 might describe Treadwell’s actions. Was Treadwell a true martyr like the face of Jesus Christ? Many argue he put a spotlight on Park Services, and their mistreatment of nature. He also pinned down on for society as a whole, respecting nothing but nature, but in ways he may have done more harm than good. Humans and bears have a certain attitude towards each other that goes back centuries. They fear us, and we fear them. By interacting with these bears, Treadwell may have changed the way bears view humans.
If a bear showed up on your lawn, because he was no longer afraid of you, I believe it was for the worse. Treadwell’s real enemy was himself. “I would never, ever kill a bear in defense of my own life” Treadwell stated. He was so lost in his own mind being fed up with society that he accepted death for his fight against it. Treadwell couldn’t refuse the bear, just as Jesus couldn’t refuse the cross. Treadwell’s “something to be” had a huge price tag. Thoreau did not give his life for the woods. He had basic respect for his life and society. Treadwell on the other hand was different. Treadwell was not a Martyr. He was fighting for an unworthy cause with essentially zero support with no results. I believe his mission was more to figure out his own life, and seek his fate, than to truly protect nature. It wasn’t that he was harmonious with nature, but that he cared so little, that he would enter the “danger zone” to get closer than anyone before. The lesson to be had here is not that societal ties are unbreakable.
In the early 19th century, a philosophy known as transcendentalism emerged in America. Members of the transcendentalist movement believed that the thoughts of individuals were bastardized due to societal issues such as politics and religion. Although transcendentalists held numerous beliefs, the three essential values of transcendentalism are idealism, individualism, and the divinity of nature.
Transcendentalists believed that individuals should be independent, and not influenced by the rules of society. Along with individualism, members of this movement used creative writing in order to describe the significance of nature, and demonstrate their love and respect for the natural world. In order to live a successful life free from the judgement of society, transcendentalists believed that it was crucial to connect and understand nature.
One of the most influential writers of this period, Henry David Thoreau, was very passionate about nature. Thoreau is most well-known for his book Walden, which describes the importance of living a simple life and being able to provide for yourself while preserving a connection to nature. The transcendentalist themes reflected in the piece were inspired by the time Thoreau lived away from society in a cabin he built himself on Walden Pond. After Thoreau’s death, another piece titled Walking was published. In this piece, Thoreau writes on the subject of nature, and dismisses the ideas of society that hinder both individual thought and the experiences provided by nature. Both of these pieces reinforce Thoreau’s message that there is value in self-reliance and discovery as well as a connection between man and nature.
Throughout both texts, Thoreau explains that nature represents the natural aspect to man that has been subdued by society. Unlike most people, Thoreau believes it is more important to be independent in both social and economic situations than to rely on society to make those decisions. Thoreau finds contentedness in solitude, and refuses to interact with society, unless it is on his own terms. Thoreau also expresses that he does not understand how people can be content in life without a strong connection to nature. A passage from Walking describes Thoreau’s opinions on normal members of society, I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least”and it is commonly more than that”sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements You may safely say, A penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them”as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon”I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago. Thoreau believes that people are distracted by society, and no longer take the time to enjoy the beauty of nature, and this is incomprehensible to him.
In Walden, Thoreau reinforces this idea when he states, 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 thumbnail… In both texts, we see that Thoreau expresses his distaste for society. Instead of a mentality exhausted by societal issues, Thoreau encourages readers to think deeply about themselves and their personal connection to nature. In Walking Thoreau says, In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the villageWhat business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something other than the woods? Thoreau believes that the only way to fix the issues faced by members of society is to keep the interactions with others to a minimum and to take the time to enjoy the splendor of the natural world.
Thoreau begins Walking with a quote that that captures the theme of the piece; his admiration of the natural world, I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil”to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society. Throughout the essay, he describes the wildness present in both man and nature, and uses the activity of walking to explain the human attempt to understand nature. Thoreau believed that man was a part of nature and completely separate from society, and elaborates on this concept in Walden.
In order to understand nature himself, Thoreau took a trip to Walden Pond. At the pond, Thoreau lived a simple life and supported himself. He knew that society would be skeptical of his endeavor, but wished to gain valuable knowledge about himself by surrounding himself with the natural world. Unlike other members of society who focused on materialistic things, Thoreau was content with simplicity, and focused his attention on nature. Not only did Thoreau build the cabin he inhabited himself, but he lived off the land eating foods that nature provided, and found entertainment and intellectual simulation in the animals and plants surrounding him. He proved that it was possible to live successfully among nature, and that people who escaped the grasp of society would be more satisfied and aware if they accepted themselves as a part of nature. Thoreau explains that after spending time in nature, he no longer felt that human connection was significant; In the midst of a gentle rain while these thoughts prevailed, I was suddenly sensible of such sweet and beneficent society in Nature, in the very pattering of the drops, and in every sound and sight around my house, an infinite and unaccountable friendliness all at once like an atmosphere sustaining me, as made the fancied advantage of human neighborhood insignificant.
While Walking and Walden share many of the same themes, the way in which Thoreau presented the ideas was very different. In Walking, concepts are presented more dramatically than they are in Walden. Although he presented his ideas differently in each of the texts, the relationship between the texts explained Thoreau’s reasoning for appealing to humans. In fact, an article published by Slate Magazine, claims that Walking is Walden’s counterpart. Wen Stephenson said, If you understand Walking, you can almost skip Walden. (I’m not really recommending that”in fact, please don’t.) What I mean is this: It’s clear that Walking, and the actual walking that inspired it, leads to Walden. Within a year of delivering the Walking lecture for the first time, in the spring of 1851, Thoreau was back at his draft of the big book, revising and expanding with renewed creative energy. You could almost say Thoreau walked to Walden. The natural correlation between the two pieces allowed for Thoreau to convey to people that in order to live a successful and happy life, they should not depend on society to guide their actions, and that humans were not superior, but equal to nature.
Transcendentalism – Idealistic Philosophical and Social Movement
Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau started the transcendentalist movement in America in the Nineteenth Century. People in today’s society seem to follow each other instead of following their own thoughts. People believe they need lots of possessions in life to achieve success. Technology and money have made people reliant on them and they can not go without either one. In Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson and in Walden and On the Duty of Civil Disobedience by Henry David Thoreau, the authors express nonconformity, simplicity, and corruption of society in order to convey transcendentalism.
Nonconformity allows people not to conform to rules or practice everyone else follows. People lose sight of themselves when they conform to the ways of society. Envy is ignorance; that imitation is suicide (Emerson 261). Emerson says this to express that if people copy other people they kill their originality. People often seem afraid to go against what everyone else believes even when they do not believe the same beliefs. Society everywhere is in conspiracy against the manhood of every one of its members (Emerson 261). Society does not want their members to rebel against their beliefs. According to Malcolm X, I admired any Negro man who has never had himself conked, or who has had the sense to get rid of it – as I finally did ( 283). Malcolm X realizes that he does not have to change his hair to fit in with everyone. Many people did not have their hair conked, so Malcolm never conked his hair anymore. Conforming to the ways of others only hurts people and never helps them as a person. Dictionary.com states that simplicity as absence of luxury, pretentiousness, ornament, etc.; plainless. Henry David Thoreau moved to Walden Pond to live his life in the simplest way. Simplicity, simplicity, simplicity! (Walden 91). Thoreau says simplicity often to express that living in society people do not have to a lot to live good. Many families live in a big house with multiple rooms and only use a couple of rooms. Instead of three meals a day,… eat but one; instead of a hundred dishes, five; and reduce other things in proportions ( Walden 91).
Families do not need lots of dishes when they consist of three to five people. Owning a lot of unneeded items only makes clutter homes when the items do not really get used regularly. The more items people own does not make their lives better or them a better person. Society has easily corrupted by all the advances coming into the world. People in today society worry about either they have the latest technology instead of the basic necessities of life. Computers, cell phones, and internet corrupt people’s lives because they no longer have to go into public to shop, talk to people, and pay their bills. We live in a world of surfeit stuff, of big-box stores and 24-hour online shopping opportunities. Members of every socioeconomic bracket can and do deluge themselves with products (Hill). The internet allows people to shop twenty-four online, so people lose the need to leave their homes. Young people today rely on cell phones so much that they lose communication and academic skills. Phones allow people to just call others and see them face to face so when people come face to face they can not communicate well. Teens use slang wording in text messages so often so when the go-to spell words out they often cannot spell correctly. People rely on their phones and the internet to help them spell unknown words, and apps to work math problems out. In today’s society, People often no longer value the money they make. Absolutely speaking, the more money, the less virtue; for money comes between a man and his objects, and obtains them for him: and it was certainly no great virtue to obtain it ( Civil Disobedience 351). People often make large amounts of money and spend it on items they do not really need. People never really think about the future, so they do not prepared when a crisis happens.
The beliefs transcendentalism of nonconformity, simplicity, and corruption of society used in Emerson’s and Thoreau’s works still seem popular issues in society today. People have trouble not conforming to the views of the government and their peers. Many people think they have to have lots of things to have a good life when they really do not need a lot. Society relies heavily on technology and money that they get caught up in their phones and money that they can not function without them. People should live the way they think works best for them.
Walden as a Prototype for the Nonfiction Genre
Henry Thoreau’s Walden is often classified as a philosophical autobiography recounting his two-year experience living in a woodland outside Concord, Massachusetts. Residing in a tiny cabin overlooking Walden Pond, Thoreau spent his days observing nature, meeting travelers, baking bread and planting seeds. The importance of Walden lies in Thoreau’s unique philosophical perspective and connection to Nature . When Thoreau was not visiting, he was walking through the woods, dissecting what people called progress. At the time, the very young country was experiencing growing pains, expanding into a commercial empire that bothered Thoreau. He did not like seeing his fellow countrymen enslaving themselves through an illusive conquest of material gain. This type of industrial progress, Thoreau believed, led “a mass of men to lead lives of quiet desperation” (6). Thoreau wished to escape this scene and divest himself of material things and live a humble existence. For him, the acquisition of material objects acted as a corrupter, polluting humanity and acting as a barrier to the beauty of the natural world. He did not want to “live what was not life” (85). In his own words, Thoreau wrote that he went to the woods “to live deliberately, to front the only the essential facts of life and learn what it had to teach, so that upon death he would not discover that he had not lived” (85).Such profound thoughts seem perfect for an autobiography. Of genre classification for Walden, Markus Poetzsch writes, “Indeed, insofar as Walden, at its textual center, is not merely the narrative of a pond but of Thoreau’s life by the pond, it is vitally and irreducibly autobiographical” (2). J. Lyndon Shanley argues that Walden is actually a combination of three genres—“a chronicle, a topical essay and a persuasive argument” (1). Also, the work might be placed in the philosophy genre, because, in certain sections, it has the same didactic tone as Ralph Waldo Emerson’s essay “Nature,” which went into great detail about the beliefs of Transcendentalism. Although Thoreau assumes a similar tone in his work, the whole experience at Walden Pond does not seem to fit the instructional, sermonizing effect Emerson went for in his essay. Even to call the work pure philosophy is an uncomfortable designation because of the intimate descriptions of Nature given by Thoreau as he strolls through the shadowy woods in Concord. Traditional philosophy, like those written by the Greeks, focuses on logic, argumentation and dialectics. Plato, when writing the dialogues of his former teacher, Socrates, is emotionally detached from the experience, offering little or no feeling for scenes rendered by the dialogue. Thoreau, on the other hand, romanticizes about what he sees and feels. Here, in Walden, the message is a personal one that attempts to converse with the reader. If Thoreau’s Walden fails to be a true autobiography and has too much emotion to be just a work of internal philosophy, then what is it? Unknowingly, Thoreau’s work was a precursor to a new genre: creative nonfiction. The personal, creative connection Thoreau attributes to his stay in the woods is highly stylized in its prose and reads like fiction even though it is not. Thoreau’s masterwork is full of symbolism, poetry and general themes that transcend what might have been just a two-dimensional autobiography about life away from the shambling progress of humanity. Thoreau does not express himself in a detached, scientific way, describing the natural world as if it were a romantic landscape portrait full of vibrant color, showing him to be a poetic philosopher with a gift for creating a full-bodied narrative; however, even with these qualities there are some questions as to how true Thoreau’s experience was and whether the story is closer to a fictional memoir instead of a factual account. These are questions the reader might wonder about and can understand by looking at the conventions of this new genre. With that, it does seem Thoreau’s reliability and motive about his experience at Walden Pond are questionable: Why did he write Walden and what was his purpose? At different points of the narrative, Thoreau’s bashing of day-to-day life can be off-putting, affecting the reader sympathy for the narrator, which can be detrimental to success of a creative nonfiction work. In addressing these concerns, with respect to the genre, it is possible to see that the work has its faults, but is akin in spirit to the fourth genre.The creative nonfiction genre is still relatively young when compared to the amounts of scholarship and analysis given to fiction or poetry; nevertheless, its infancy in the wide array of printed words does not mean there are few works to read. In actuality, the genre has been with readers for hundreds of years. Lee Gutkind, editor for the Creative Nonfiction Magazine does not know exactly who coined the name of the genre. His best recollection of when the genre became official was in 1983 at a meeting held by the National Endowment for the Arts. They tried to decide what to call the genre “as a category” for their fellowships (Creative Nonfiction). Until then, the genre has unofficially had gone without a distinguishing name to separate itself from regular nonfiction. What, then, is the difference between nonfiction and creative nonfiction? The answer to that question is simply that the fourth genre shares elements of both fiction and nonfiction. That answer, would, in certain terms, suggest a fault in literary physics, how can one piece of work share conflicting elements without becoming one or the other in its creation? The truth is simply this: creative nonfiction, like nonfiction, shares the biographical aspect, but unlike its forefather, it is written using fictional techniques of storytelling. By that, creative nonfiction authors relate their narratives with the accuracy of an autobiographer, yet the revelation of the facts is not done in a formal, linear style. Instead, the author uses fictional devices, like symbolism, character development, plot manipulation, irony and dialogue to accentuate the events. The effect of crossing genres produces a new written entity with both the honesty of nonfiction and the informality of fiction, giving birth to a genre “depending less on airtight reasoning than on style and personality” (Lopate xxiv). This “style and personality” mentioned by Phillip Lopate (a practitioner of the genre himself), exists in many forms ranging from personal essay to new journalism and the memoir. Even travel or food writing can be considered as members of the same family. The key conventions of the genre are the personality of the author and his or her honesty in accordance with the facts. The author of a creative nonfiction work is the subject looking upon the world. This means the author writes from the first-person perspective, using the “I” instead of the third-person limited or omniscient. Preferring the first person over the third raises the age-old debate about the reliability of the first-person narrator, and the loss of objectivity that is essential to nonfiction and journalism; however, those who argue against the “I” miss the whole point of its significance for the creative nonfiction writer—the narrative is meant to be personal, intimate (Lopate xxi). Experience is directly filtered through the author’s perception of the events. Thoreau makes a point about using the first person in the beginning of Walden: “In most books, the I, or the first person is omitted; in this it will be retained….I should not talk so much about myself if there were anybody else whom I knew as well. Unfortunately, I am confined to this theme by the narrowness of my experience” (3).The “narrowness of the experience” is the author’s ability to compress time into the most important scenes in the narrative. The feelings and thoughts about a person, time or place are of the most importance to the author because, in essence, those are the qualities that make his or her narrative personal. The cold, aloof nature of a newspaper article, or a biography in the third-person, is devoid of the colorful charm linked to first-hand experience. Utilizing the first-person allows the author to render scenes with general themes, leading to life-changing epiphanies brought on by the event, which can be quite challenging for the inexperienced writer. The development of these ideas sometimes requires a great deal of reflection, or personal growth. To write in this genre effectively, personal essayist and creative nonfiction author Vivian Gornick believes that the writer must “convince the reader that they have some wisdom, and are writing as honestly as possible to arrive at what they know. To the bargain, the writer of the personal narrative must also persuade the reader that the narrative is reliable” (14). Since Walden is a possible prototype of creative nonfiction, the reader might question the reliability of Thoreau’s perspective of life out in the woods. Since so much time has gone by, readers have historical background at their disposal to remove any doubt. According to an article in the Benét Reader’s Encyclopedia, “Thoreau built a cabin at Walden Pond, on land owned by Emerson. He lived there two years, two months, and two days” (1022). For the sake of idle curiosity, a replica of the original cabin sits in view of the famous blue pond. Not too far away from it stands a statue of Thoreau himself, gazing out into the distance. Other historical facts are that he was jailed for not paying a tax to support the Mexican War. He was an editor for a transcendental publication, The Dial, and was friends with Ralph Waldo Emerson (1022). He graduated from Harvard and attempted to be a teacher, but found the occupation unsatisfying. Considering all these historical facts may give the reader background on Thoreau’s actions as a transcendental pacifist unable to find an occupation or a society suitable enough to sustain his philosophies; yet these recollections of the past say very little about what the man thought and what he felt. Only Thoreau can actualize that inward reflection and give life to his thoughts. All of the outward actions of his character are supported by his musings on life, Nature and humanity. Thoreau invites readers to go into the woods with him, so they may also catch a glimpse of the experience he had at Walden Pond. If Thoreau can be considered a creative nonfiction writer, then his job as narrator is to write the experience well enough so the reader can trust him. His painstakingly intricate thoughts on the direction society was headed, along with his crafted descriptions of life by Walden Pond support the historical facts. Still, there might be a bit of uncertainty as to how much of his life in Walden actually happened. There is no way to account for every detail of Nature as described by his pen. All that is left is an undertaking of the certain conventions of the creative nonfiction genre to explore where exactly Walden falls. The adventure starts out believable enough. The lens focuses in on a walking Thoreau, making plans about an experiment that will isolate him from the modernity of a burgeoning America. Meanwhile, he makes cold, but astute observations about essentials and inessentials of life. The first chapter is entitled “Economy.” Gornick’s analysis of the genre comes into play here. She writes that “every work of literature has both a situation and a story. The situation is the context or circumstance, sometimes the plot; the story is the emotional experience that preoccupies the writer: the insight, the wisdom, the thing one has to say” (13). For Thoreau’s narrative, the situation is the need to get away, find refuge from the so-called progress shackling humanity to unfulfilling lives of hard work and shallow society; the story is the experience of living two years in a humble, material free existence and the spiritual relation humanity has to Nature. At the start of the piece, Thoreau is busy planning the particulars of his plan to go to Walden, itemizing certain expenditures. Along the way he reveals much to the reader about his disenchantment with the condition of his fellow men: “Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them” (6).Thoreau believes his fellow countrymen have enslaved themselves with their occupational efforts. Industry is a vile and sick manmade mechanism, draining life away through fleeting gains equating to a meaningless existence of blind competition. The first chapter of Thoreau’s work is prophetic considering the evolution of the same issues in the 21st century. People become so obsessed with their careers, sacrificing all their time climbing the proverbial company ladder—hoping to reach the top and believing that there is no other choice. Either work or die. Buy the nice luxury home, have children and continue the same time-honored tradition of keeping up with the Joneses. To Thoreau, a great deal of this slavery comes from the possessions people own. The more a person has, the more he or she has to work in order to keep it. Thoreau proclaims “most of the luxuries, and many of the so-called comforts of life, are not only not indispensable, but positive hindrances to the elevation of mankind” (13). After taking leave of the economic plight of civilized society, Thoreau makes his venture to Walden Pond, which is where the story begins. Thoreau’s objective is clearly stated: “My purpose in going to Walden Pond was not to live cheaply nor to live dearly there, but to transact some business with the fewest obstacles” (18). The situation of the “Economy” chapter acts like an extended thesis Thoreau wishes to try. By ridding himself of the luxuries that anchor people to a lifetime of toil and misery, Thoreau can turn his thesis into a reality. He believes that he has discovered a way to happiness and wishes to divulge the information to the reader. There were many places Thoreau might have chosen instead of Walden Pond to carry out his experiment – a desert, a cave, or even an island. But Walden Pond, from a creative standpoint, has a magical and almost poetic quality about it. It is not, in reality, the postcard pond destined to attract a multitude of visitors based on its appearance alone. Yet, it is apropos for Thoreau’s purposes. It has a charming, organic simplicity about it that beckons a creative representation. Thoreau, obviously possessing an analytical mind, could have gone to Walden Pond and described exactly what he saw in a scientific way. After all, the opening chapter is indicative of a pragmatic narrator, who even calculates all his expenses down to nearest the half of a cent. On its own, “The Economy” chapter really is not a good representation of creative nonfiction because there is little action and much of it is judgmental. “Obviously, Thoreau holds himself—and his intellect in considerably higher esteem than he affords the majority of his fellows” (Brooker 2). Thoreau, meaning well in his thoughts, is condescending in his delivery. Particularly, his view on elderly people: “Practically, the old have no very important advice to give to the young, their own experience has been so impartial, and their lives such miserable failures” (8). The harsh, dismissive critique of the elderly is a purely one-sided generalization that does slight damage to the reader’s sympathy for Thoreau. His unsympathetic tone reveals itself immediately from the start, which might make it difficult for the common reader to invest the time to walk alongside Thoreau’s path. Thoreau does redeem himself when he goes to Walden Pond, but it takes a while to get used to his personality. In an essay entitled “Thoreau’s Development of in Walden,” Paul Schwaber suggests Thoreau’s demeanor can be off-putting, there is still much to like about him. “At the beginning of the book, Thoreau speaks as a man apart, though, as the act of writing itself and even his acerbic humor would suggest, he is never entirely cut off from some good feeling for his fellow man” (Schwaber 4). Breaking away from humanity, lightens the tone in Thoreau’s voice, as he is at last doing what he set out to do.The altering of tone in the Walden Pond chapters might have had something to do with the many revisions Walden went through before publication. His first publication A Week was a dismal failure, prompting the publisher, Munroe & Co., to forget all about his latest manuscript even though there was an advertisement for it in the back page of the same work (Sayre 6). Thoreau’s pre-Walden Pond publication was a written tribute to his late brother, John. The story is an account of a boat trip Thoreau took with his brother from Massachusetts to New Hampshire and back. Most likely, readers and publishers were put off by the digressions into religion and philosophy. After its completion, Thoreau had to raise his own money in order to have it published, leaving him in considerable debt. Thoreau did not want to repeat the same mistake he made with his previous publication, so Thoreau decided to keep revising his work. According to essayist Robert F. Sayre, Walden was written in seven different versions “not counting a final printer’s copy done in 1854, and most of the additions were made after 1851” (7). Early versions of the work were full of scathing criticism and a satire of progress; “based in his simple cabin, the author exposed the shams and delusions of the mass of men” (7). The majority of the philosophical lashings Thoreau gives to his fellow men are in the first two parts, “The Economy and Where I Lived and What I Lived For” (7). The constant revisions Thoreau made turned Walden into a much more enjoyable read.American naturalist John Burroughs believes that the creative elements Thoreau uses for aesthetic purposes in his narrative are “a restrained extravagance of statement and a compressed exaggeration of metaphor. The hyperbole is big, but it is gritty and firmly held” (2). What Burroughs is implying here is that Thoreau’s prose is theatrical but refined; he has complete control over his thoughts and none of them, read silently or aloud, is out of place because he describes the scene as if he were painting it on a canvas. There is also a good bit of sentimentality in Thoreau’s prose which is evident when he describes the pond in winter: “Every winter the liquid and trembling surface of the pond, which was so sensitive to every breath, and reflected every light and shadow, becomes solid to the depth of a foot in a half….Like the marmots on the surrounding hills, it closes its eyelids and becomes dormant for three months or more” (258). As a creative stylist Thoreau does a number of things here to embellish the scene of a frozen pond in this brief little passage. The obvious one is the use of personification. Thoreau treats the pond as if it is a living entity that, “like the marmots,” goes into hibernation, closing its eyelids until the spring comes back to awaken it (258). The passage also has an abundance of romantic sentimentality about the whole winter process. Before starting his day, Thoreau remarks, “O Prince, our eyes contemplate with the admiration and transmit to the soul the wonderful and varied spectacle of the universe” (258). Thoreau is attempting a balancing act: although, the opening lines of Nature’s spoken resolution in this chapter are an example of the hyperbole Burroughs mentions. Carefully constructing the lines about the freezing of the pond, Thoreau is able to soften the prosaic crescendo by returning to just as romantic a notion, but at a much gentler, largo style approach. Thoreau’s musical approach to the language is an example of the creative nonfiction element in Walden. For all practical purposes, Thoreau might have gone for just a technical observation of the freezing of the pond, foregoing any attempt to sensationalize the experience. Burroughs is thankful that Thoreau keeps the creative elements intact because without them “the record would have been much duller. Eliminate from him all his exaggerations, all his inflation of bubbles, etc., and you make sad havoc in his pages” (4). Sensationalism in prose can sometimes be detrimental to a written work, but sensationalism is partly what Walden is about. And at times that can be its fault.Although a cursory inspection of Thoreau’s work gives the reader no reason to doubt his reliability as the narrator; since however one might question his motives. Thoreau wanted people to read his vision; it was more than just a personal outlook of life away from society or a sequel companion to Emerson’s work. And in order to pique interest in a product requires a bit of salesmanship. This can happen in a genre like creative nonfiction. The author feels the need to exploit a certain experience for his or her own satisfaction, whether it is for pecuniary or intellectual reasons. In an article entitled “Giving the Game Away: Thoreau’s Intellectual Imperialism and the Marketing of Walden Pond,” writer Ira Brooker accuses Thoreau of exploiting Walden Pond for his own “intellectual enrichment” (6). Taking Brooker’s idea into account would hurt the placement of Thoreau’s work as a piece of creative nonfiction because it suggests he might have strayed from the truth, hurting his sincerity as a narrator in order to gain a recognition that betrays the one indicated in his work. Brooker accuses Thoreau of writing a how-to book on surviving in the wilderness and “selling the idea of Walden to the masses” (6). Based on the number of times Thoreau rewrote Walden, the question of how much truth was sacrificed in order to make it more enjoyable is a valid one if the reader is to trust the nonfiction element of the work.The question of authenticity and reliability is crucial to a work of creative nonfiction because without it, the writing becomes fictitious. The common saying about good fiction is that it has an element of truth to it, but it is a product of imagination; creative nonfiction, on the other hand, is supposed to be true. Genre writer Lee Gutkind believes much of the reliability of a narrative has to do with the writers’ “ethical and moral boundaries and their willingness to achieve accuracy and believability in their work” (xxii). His answer is for a person yet unaccustomed to the genre does seem unsatisfactory because it rests the credibility of a creative nonfiction work solely on the conscience of its creator. A storyteller weaves a tale, mixing truth and fiction for the purposes of entertainment. The biographer goes only for the facts, ignoring any sort of stylistic flair in fear that might obstruct the truth. As Gutkind acknowledges it is a blurry line between the genres of fiction and nonfiction, but there are ways to combat the uncertainty (xx-xi).One way to guarantee if a piece is indeed real or fiction is to have a crack team of lawyers to inspect certain aspects of a submitted piece of work; Gutkind mentions that the journal called Creative Nonfiction has a group of attorneys policing the work before publication (xxiii). Gutkind says, “Our editorial board had to work with attorneys to determine what could be said between a doctor and patients, what names of places should be legitimately disguised and what places should be omitted” (4). Another way Gutkind describes is a historical overview of facts, documents and historical data to alleviate any doubt (xxiii). Unfortunately, despite all these methods, there can still be much doubt as to what actually occurred in any memoir because so much of written work is subjective. And because of the subjectivity, Gutkind’s argument that much of the truth of a narrative comes from the author’s ethical stance is not such an outlandish statement . In contemporary times, with all the lawyers and factual investigations into details, it is much harder for creative nonfiction posers to get away with artificial narratives. Unfortunately for Thoreau, his publishers did not have a collection of in-house attorneys to investigate the Walden Pond odyssey from beginning to end. It would have cost way too much to do so, and there is nothing truly scandalous written in Walden. Thoreau wrote a few unkind observations about the daily work ritual of his fellow Americans and some of the visitors that wandered his way, but there is no malice in his tone about any of these people. If anything his tone is sympathetic; he feels sorry that these people do not take the time to see how empty their lives are. Of course, it might be possible that Thoreau, as Brooker suggests, wrote Walden to make himself look good, exploit the environment for his own gain and profit from a how-to-guide on living in the woods. Yet there are other interpretations of Thoreau’s efforts that blatantly contradict that claim. His work has touched many thoughtful people. Anne Labastille, an ecologist, wrote that she did not appreciate the writing in Walden until she was in her forties (53-57). She came to love to the book after hearing it on an audiotape while going on long drives to visit her dying mother. Later she wrote, “It was Thoreau who inspired me to build a second tiny cabin twenty years after my first” (58). She built a second cabin, even itemizing the cost as Thoreau did. Almost two centuries later, this work still inspires and causes debates among students, scholars, professors and ecologists. One interpretation does not ruin his credibility or what he set out to do. No document exists that proves Walden set out for a type of gain while living out in the woods. He could have achieved a gain over a period of six months instead of two years; however, judging from his writing, his aims were much loftier.With all the revisions to his work, the priggish attitude toward society, and questionable reasons for writing Walden set aside, all that remains is the written words of Thoreau’s narrative. It’s true that Thoreau probably embellished the scenes he saw to make the reading experience more enjoyable to the reader, but this stylizing can be part of the creative nonfiction genre. Adding poetic, baroque-style descriptions does not obstruct the truth that a man took it upon himself to see what life could be like with just the essentials of life. Thoreau’s creative touches to Walden add a dimension to the reading experience that has captivated audiences for over a hundred years and continues to do so with each new generation. Although not a perfect example of the new creative nonfiction out on the market today, Walden is perfectly cast as one of the prototypes of a new and thriving genre. Works CitedBrooker, Ira. “Giving the Game Away: Thoreau’s Intellectual Imperialism and the Marketing of Walden Pond.” The Midwest Quarterly. 45.2 (Winter 2004): p137. Burroughs, John. “Henry D. Thoreau.” The Century. 24.3 ( 1882, July ): 368-379. Rpt. in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Laurie Lanzen Harris and Sheila Fitzgerald. Vol. 7. Detroit: Gale Research, 1984. 368-379. Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature.” 1836. Complete Essays and Other Writings. Ed. Brooks Atkinson. New York: The Modern Library, 1950. 7.Gornick, Vivian. The Situation and the Story. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2002. 13-14.Gutkind, Lee. “Creative Nonfiction Police.” In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction. Ed. Lee Gutkind. New York: W. W. Norton and Company: 2004. xx-xiii.—. “What is Creative Nonfiction?.” Creative Nonfiction. Ed. Lee Gutkind. 10 Dec. 2008. <http://www.creativenonfiction.org/thejournal/whatiscnf.htm>.Labastille, Anne. “Fishing in the Sky.” New Essays on Walden. Ed. Robert F. Sayre. New York: University of Cambridge Press, 1992. 53-58.Lopate, Phillip, ed. Introduction. The Art of the Personal Essay: An Anthology from the Classical Era to the Present. New York: Anchor Books, 1995. xxiv-xxxi.Poetzsch, Markus. “Sounding Walden Pond: the Depths and Double Shadows of Thoreau’s Autobiographical Symbol.” ATQ (The American Transcendental Quarterly). 22.2 (June 2008): p387. Sayre, Robert F, ed. Introduction. New Essays on Walden. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. 6-7. Schwaber, Paul. “Thoreau’s Development in Walden.” Criticism. 5.1 (Winter 1963): 64-70. Rpt. in Nonfiction Classics for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context, and Criticism on Nonfiction Works. Ed. David M. Galens, Jennifer Smith, and Elizabeth Thomason. Shanley, J. Lyndon. “Developing the Structure.” The Making of Walden with the Text from the First Version. The University of Chicago Press, 1957. 74-91. Rpt. in Nineteenth-Century Literature Criticism. Ed. Gerald R. Barterian and Denise Evans. Vol. 61. Detroit: Gale Research, 1998. 74-91. “Thoreau.” Benét’s Reader’s Encyclopedia. Ed. Bruce Murphy. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 1997. 1022.Thoreau, Henry D. Walden. 1854. Walden and Selected Essays. Ed. Walter Hendricks. Chicago: Packard and Company, 1947. 3-290.
Birdsong, the Railroad, and Time in Walden
One of the more superficial lessons often gleaned from Thoreau’s Walden is the superiority of the “natural” laws of time over those of commercially-motivated, fast-paced humans. This viewpoint has its supports in Thoreau’s almost constant juxtaposition of timeless, melodious birdsong to the screeching, interruptive quality of the train whistle in “Sounds.” His message, however, contains more complexity than a single condemnation of civilization’s rule by the ticking clock; at various moments, he stresses the good qualities of the railroads by comparing their noises more favorably toward natural time, equating the whistle’s regularity to the sun. Thoreau utilizes the qualities of sound to demonstrate how various tones found in nature and civilization connote with the pace of living in each place. The relationship of natural versus civilized time is confounded by seemingly contradictory examples of, for instance, a whippoorwill singing “almost with as much precision as a clock,” the human construct also governing the railroads’ time. By the end of “Sounds,” Thoreau somewhat reconciles his love of a natural time with its civilized associations by suggesting a blend of the two as a standard of living. The domesticated cockerel embodies this suggestion, a bird that keeps time for rural people, but on a looser schedule than that of the railroad. One important implication of “Sounds,” then, is that human conventions of time-measurement do contain value; Thoreau believes that natural time allows one to live more freely.It seems highly appropriate that Thoreau’s musings on time come in the form of sound, possibly the most temporal of senses. Not only are sounds necessarily finite-a piece of music has a definite end whereas a painting does not-but they mark the passage of time with rhythm, as a ticking clock or a musical piece. Noises also serve as temporal reminders for various human actions, like waking up in the morning or boarding a train, for which visual stimuli would not serve as well-imagine being woken up by a flashing light as opposed to the jolt of an alarm clock.To Thoreau, however, a difference exists between the type of time marked by birdsong and that of the railroad, one signifying a natural, timeless quality and the other a harsh disruption in the smooth flow of natural life. He sits “…in undisturbed solitude and stillness, while the birds sang around…until by…the noise of some traveler’s wagon on the distant highway, I was reminded of the lapse of time” (1827). Here, a traveler’s wagon instead of a railroad serves as the vehicle of commerce between places, embodying the scheduled, unnatural reminder of the lapse of time, taking Thoreau out of the undisturbed reverie of birdsong. In the same paragraph, he describes his employment of the exemplary time of birds and the “uncivilized” Puri Indians:As the sparrow had its trill…so had I my chuckle or suppressed warble which he might hear out of my nest. My days were not days of the week…nor were they minced into hours and fretted by the ticking of a clock; for I lived like the Puri Indians, of whom it is said that ‘for yesterday, to-day and to-morrow they have only one word…(1827)Here, Thoreau explicitly compares himself to birds by noting the sparrow’s “trill” in relationship to his “warble,” on top of his description of his house as a “nest.” It follows then, that the type of time he subsequently speaks of belongs to the birds as well as the Native Americans, since he also puts himself forward as living by their idea of time. He posits this way of life as superior by claiming it as neither “minced” nor “fretted” into time measurement, verbs which equate confinement and anxiety with civilized time. The two passages combine to contrast the melodic birdsong to the fragmented ticking of a clock, the birdsong existing as a more unified whole, exemplifying, perhaps, the “one word” the Puris use for the passage of days. It is not the birds, but the wagon that reminds Thoreau of the passage of time. Industrial society lives by the compressed time of the clock, each second marked by ticking, thereby calling one’s attention to the every passing instant. The Puris, and the author at Walden, live by the wholism of nature, birdsong calling one to forget the particularity of each moment and view time as a harmonic flow.The author particularly seems to believe the railroad is warping of nature, a thing of the city that forces its commercial schedule onto all those around it, limiting their freedom. Thoreau writes, beginning with the view of the “restless city merchants,”Here come your groceries, country; your rations, countrymen! Nor is there any man so independent on his farm that he can say them nay. And here’s your pay for them! screams the countryman’s whistle; timber like long battering rams going twenty miles an hour…With such huge and lumbering civility the country hands a chair to the city. (1829)The author clearly demonstrates the dependency of the more “natural” countryside upon the city-the fact that no man “can say them nay” perfectly illustrates the powerless position of more nature-bound humans, exchanging timber (dead nature) for rations, supplying chairs to the city. Although not explicitly, Thoreau does include a discussion of time and sound here, with the city and country both shouting to each other, suggesting the hurried character of the transactions of commerce, going “twenty miles an hour” on a train through the country. The fact that he describes the city merchants, the arbiters of trade, as “restless,” and the country’s civility as “lumbering” suggests that the country still moves more slowly than commerce, and thus in a more natural way. Again, the farmers trade biological objects to the city whereas the city gives them the non-specific, possibly processed, “rations.” Rural areas, then, still maintain some hope of returning to natural time.Even as Thoreau seems disapproving of industrially-driven time, he also finds beauty and power in the railroad comparable to that of birds. His problem with the railroad seems not to be simply its existence, but instead that it is used for the wrong thing (excessive commercialism, speeding up the sense of time). At alternate points, he comments on the relationship between the man-made clock and the natural time of sunrise and sunset-both the railroads and the birds use these time-pieces. Thoreau demonstrates the relationship of the admirable qualities of the railroad to its particular time-setting in the following passage:I watch the passage of the morning cars with the same feeling that I do the rising of the sun, which is hardly more regular. Their train of clouds stretching far behind and rising higher and higher, going to heaven while the cars are going to Boston, conceals the sun for a minute and casts my distant field into the shade…If the enterprise were as innocent as it is early!…They go and come with such regularity and precision, and their whistle can be heard so far, that the farmers set their clocks by them, and thus one well conducted institution regulates a whole country. Have not men improved somewhat in punctuality since the railroad was invented?…I have been astonished at the miracles it has wrought… (1829-30)The romanticized image of the “clouds stretching far behind and rising higher and higher, going to heaven” surely illustrates a certain power of the railroad-its enormous figure chugging across the countryside, its by-products able to reach heaven while it reaches Boston, a destination that would have seemed almost as far before the train’s invention. Thoreau, on the next page, explicitly notes that humans have improved on punctuality, and that as a result, he has “been astonished at the miracles it has wrought,” his amazement deriving from its overwhelming power to regulate the time of the countryside. Despite his amazement and appreciation of the railroad’s potentialities, he maintains a sense of its confinement of humans by regulating time so precisely-his comment, “..and thus one well conducted institution regulates a whole country,” doubtless reflects his earlier outrage at the farmers trading lumber for their rations, seemingly without any other options. The exclamation “If the enterprise were as innocent as it is early!” supports this point, an outburst that undermines the “miracles” of punctuality the railroad creates. A comparison to natural, freer time results again from the notations on sound; with the trains, the “whistle can be heard so far, that the farmers set their clocks by them,” thereby regulating the country. It is the sound, then, that drives men to live by the trains, for, if there existed no powerful, far-reaching whistle, the farmers would have to set their clocks by something else, perhaps, birds or the sunset. (Incidentally, the magnificent cloud emanating from the train, covers the sun momentarily, disrupting its function as a timepiece.)Regularly at half past seven, in one part of the summer, after the evening train had gone by, the whippoorwills chanted their vespers for half an hour…They would begin to sing almost with as much precision as a clock, within five minutes of a particular time, referred to the setting of the sun, every evening. (1833)This passage demonstrates, subtly, Thoreau’s differentiation between the time of nature and civilized man-although the whippoorwills sing so regularly that he can predict them within five minutes, important distinctions exist2E First, they sing with almost as much precision as a clock, only living “within five minutes of a particular time” instead of being so regular that the farmers set clocks by them. Therefore, the birds live within freer boundaries of time than industrialized society. Second, the whippoorwills sing according to the setting of the sun, contrasting directly with the railroads’ shrouding of this natural timepiece; indeed, much of a clock’s artificiality derives from its ignorance of sunrise and sunset, with people, perhaps, eating dinner at six o’clock every evening regardless of whether the day has truly ended.Although Thoreau never explicitly delineates a solution to the time conflict modern man faces, his final discussion on the cockerel hints at a possible reconciliation of industrialization and nature. He chooses the rural clock of the cockerel’s song as the ultimate timekeeper:The note of this once wild Indian pheasant is certainly the most remarkable of any bird’s, and if they could be naturalized without being domesticated, it would soon become the most famous sound in our woods…No wonder that man added this bird to his tame stock,-to say nothing of the eggs and drumsticks. Who would not be early to rise, and rise earlier and earlier every successive day of his life, till he became unspeakably healthy, wealthy, and wise? (1835)Here, Thoreau wishes the rooster to “be naturalized without being domesticated,” yet understands why humans domesticated them both for their song and its use as food. He feels that this domestic bird would flourish if wild, yet still wants humans to live by its time, rising “earlier and earlier” to its crowing. The fact that he selects a domesticated bird, while recommending it as naturalized demonstrates a sort of compromise between pure nature and industrialization because he does not ask humankind to completely ignore established conventions of civilization. He even uses the product of our wisdom, a proverb (“…healthy, wealthy, and wise”), to predict the outcome of naturalizing the cockerel, furthering the idea that he values the advance of people along already established trends. However, his dream of man rising earlier every morning alludes to his previous discussion of the whippoorwills’ free sense of time-just as they function within five minutes of sunset, so humans should wake up on a looser schedule, slightly changing each day. Thus, his final recommendation includes preconceived human ideals as well as a new deference for the environment, living by a natural, though familiar clock rather than the train whistle.
The Transcendentalist Bible vs. The Actual Bible: Scriptural and Ideological Parallels in ‘Walden’
American culture has a notoriously rapid pace and obvious state of exhaustion which accompanies an overexertion of the mind, body, and spirit of a person. In this hustle and bustle it becomes easy to lose sight of the ideals set for happiness and overall lifestyle. At some point in life the question of if it was all worth it for the end goal must be asked, and it is in this quest for purpose and meaning that many of the ideas presented in Thoreau’s memoir Walden fall. While many of his views are in sync with the teachings of the Bible on how Christians should live a meaningful and fulfilling life, others are in complete contradiction. Thus, it becomes necessary to determine the differences between the values of Thoreau and biblical authors, as both works contain ideas still applicable in the constant race of modern society. While Thoreau and the biblical authors agree on some points such as the devaluation of material possessions, others such as the eternal value of the present and the presence of the success-granting hand of God are different between the two works.
The most prominent instance of similarity between the Bible and Thoreau is seen in the attitude towards worldly, material possessions. Stances on materialism and worldly possessions are all throughout the Bible, and are supported by Thoreau’s own quest for a simplistic life. The most obvious example of a life void of materialism is that of Jesus Christ, who prioritized the mission of God over comfort and riches. Similarly, the biblical verse from Luke which says “[t]ake care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions” (Luke 12:15) reiterates the importance of life outside of worldly possessions. In Thoreau’s Walden, he supports this passage from Luke when he writes “[t]he town’s poor seem to me often to live the most independent lives of any…cultivate poverty like a garden herb, like sage. Do not trouble yourself much to get new things, whether clothes or friends. Turn the old; return to them. Things do not change, we change… God will see that you do not want society” (Thoreau 413). These two passages are similar in the significance placed on life itself compared to materialism. To live a truly meaningful life, the things which provide personal gain in place of eternal value must be disregarded and attention turned to independence in favor of materialism. Only by disregarding the tempting and indulging worldly items will a life of poverty and independence be achieved. Thoreau praises simplicity when he advises “let your affairs be as two or three, and not a hundred or a thousand…keep your accounts in your thumbnail” (Thoreau 410). Overall, the idea of simplicity in all aspects of life is present in both the Bible and the writing of Thoreau, as material items and simply distract from the overall goal of a fulfilling life, complete with liberty from cultural norms in the place of materialistic conformity.
Despite the similarities between the lifestyles called for in the Bible and Thoreau’s own writings, there exist differences as well. The first instance of contradiction between Thoreau and the Bible is in reference to living a meaningful life and how time it is spent on earth. The book of James addresses this when it says, “[c]ome now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’. Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time then vanishes” (James 4:14). This verse indicates the fleeting nature of each person’s time on earth, an idea challenged by Thoreau when he writes that “[t]ime is but the stream I go a-fishing in. I drink at it; but while I drink I see the sandy bottom and detect how shallow it is. Its thin current slides away, but eternity remains. I would drink deeper; fish in the sky, whose bottom is pebbly with stars” (Thoreau 411). While the author of James emphasizes the importance of living for the present instead of planning for the future, Thoreau’s metaphor of the sand and pond illustrates the idea that eternity is all that matters. It is in these contrasting viewpoints that the difference in priority between the authors is seen. Thoreau promotes eternal welfare over caring about the present, while James depicts the idea of a fleeting lifetime, calling for more attention to the value of momentary experiences. The final example of a difference between the viewpoints of the biblical writers and Thoreau is on the topic of success through God.
Sometimes faith can become dangerous when it infringes on the realm of chance instead of guaranteed success. An example of this paradox is seen in 1 Kings when it is written that people should “[o]bserve what the LORD your God requires: Walk in obedience to him, and keep his decrees and commands, his laws and regulations, as written in the Law of Moses. Do this so that you may prosper in all you do and wherever you go” (1 Kings 2:3). While faith in the plan and works of God is a healthy thing, Thoreau believes such a belief of guaranteed success is dangerous. He expresses this idea when he writes” [t]he life in us is like the water in the river. It may rise this year higher than man has ever known it, and flood the parched uplands; even this may be the year which will drown out all or muskrats. It was not always dry land where we dwell…” (Thoreau 413-414). The metaphor of the rising river portrays the reality of life which is that there will be good times as well as bad times. Included in this metaphor is the subtle guarantee that there will be times of struggle, which contradicts with the biblical ideal of faith will grant success in all things. The difference between the views of the biblical author and Thoreau for a successful life is essentially whether or not God will be present in all hardship and working to stop it or not. Thoreau maintains that natural life has its limits, while this pessimistic view is refuted by the optimistic and promising view from the Bible. In this, the two works disagree on whether adversity in pursuit of purpose in life is a lack of faith in God’s omnipotence or simply as a fact of life.
Overall, the authors of the Bible and Thoreau share many ideas such as a view on worldly possessions, but contradict each other such on topics such as the importance of eternity and the presence of God in hardship. A quest for meaning must be tailored to an individual’s personal needs, but such an experience as that which Thoreau had at Walden Pond is an invaluable asset to all people. The ability to find meaning while assuming a state of minimalism is beneficial to not only the intellectual side of an individual, but also the physical representations of living a meaningful life such as valuing eternity over momentary comfort found in material items. Overall, a soul searching adventure such as the one Thoreau engaged in is one of the best tools that can be utilized to find meaning in life, as the true meaning can only be discovered when the excess is peeled away.
Thoreau’s Idea of Progress in Technology
If Thoreau were to retreat to Walden Pond today, would he bring along the internet? This question, suggested by a recent Christian Science Monitor headline, gets to the heart of important aspect of Thoreau’s project. Readers of Walden would be more inclined to suggest that he wouldn’t, simply because his whole book preaches simplicity and the significance of solitude and detachment from society – which is the exact opposite of what the internet, especially in the age of smartphones, encourages. This essay aims to explore Thoreau’s opinionative views on progress in technology and will also attempt to juxtapose the relevance of his statements and arguments with that of our contemporary era.
In the first chapter entitled, Economy, Thoreau confidently discredits the railroad and the magnetic telegraph – two highly celebrated technological achievements of the time, by referring to these as “modern improvements” with “an illusion about them.” He declares that “they are but improved means to an unimproved end, an end which it was already but too easy to arrive at; as railroads lead to Boston or New York. We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.” This blatant expression of discontent towards modern devices can be distinguished throughout Walden. Even with regards to the mail system, Thoreau declares, “For my part, I could easily do without the post-office. I think that there are very few important communications made through it.” An accurate summary of Thoreau’s standpoint whereby the historical context is taken into consideration would be as stated by Yoshiaki Furui in his essay, Networked Solitude: Walden, or Life in Modern Communications:
Walden can thus be read as a narrative of withdrawal not only from society, but also from the so-called “communications revolution” underway during Thoreau’s residence at Walden Pond between 1845 and 1847. With the development of the postal network, the invention of the telegraph, improved distribution routes through the expansion of transportation, such as railroads and canals, and the rise of the penny press, antebellum America underwent a significant transformation in terms of communications media and the technologies that enabled them. Each of these developments served, as a popular phrase of the era put it, “to annihilate time and space” (329).
While Thoreau’s arguments may either be commended or scornfully rejected by critics, he would never know and probably would never have guessed that these “modern improvements” would in the future play great roles during two great world wars – amongst other major defining incidents in history – and in time become more common means of transportation and communication to a rapidly growing population all across the globe. He may insist on simplicity and the needlessness of these technological advancements, but it is evident that Thoreau was living an idealistic existence. He repeatedly wrote about change, and the “miracle” of which, as well as his conviction that obviously supports change: “old deeds for old people, and new deeds for new.” However, Thoreau clearly draws a line for this notion of change, as he plainly refuses to welcome the change in technological developments. He challenges readers to consider how this new technology affects our habits, our weaknesses and strengths. An example of which is when Thoreau ironically states in regards to the telegraph, “as if the main object were to talk fast and not to talk sensibly.”
Moreover, Thoreau appears to overlook his advice to readers that “it is never too late to give up our prejudices.” He seems to have failed to notice his own prejudice against these advancements, and one can only imagine the sort of reaction he would give to the “modern improvements” of the 21st century. He would most likely insist that we do not require even the internet, let alone computers and mobile phones. He would most probably argue against the modern devices of present day the same way he described the railroad and magnetic telegraph: “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things.” On the other hand, there is a possibility for the opposite. Thoreau may instead welcome the internet, laptops and smartphones, but he would more than surely utilize them only for the benefit of his genius. As a lover of books, Thoreau was a man who read in abundance, especially during his solitary stay at Walden Pond. In today’s version of a retreat to the woods, people would bring their laptops and mobile phones, and along with the internet it is equivalent to being in the wilderness with electronic books and an infinite sea of information and knowledge in our hands and laps. However, it is undeniable that whether these devices are used for work or entertainment, they are indeed “pretty toys, which distract our attention from serious things,” and in Thoreau’s point of view, nature, in particular, was one of the “serious things” that was necessary to be focused on during his time at Walden Pond.
In my opinion, Thoreau’s perspective on these “modern improvements” are not relevant to today’s context. We owe a great deal to the advancements of trains and the telegraph; the first now providing better comfort and ease to journey across nations within lesser time, such as the development of the bullet train in Japan, and the Fuxing train in China (now the world’s fastest train as of June 2017), and the latter having progressed into far more sophisticated and accessible modes of communication, such as the telephone and now the mobile phone. These advancements would not have been achieved if we had not started somewhere, and now they are necessary assets in the 21st century, especially in connecting all parts of the world together. With regards to the financial matter of the time, Thoreau argues that one would have to spend an entire day working in order to earn enough money for the train fare, and in that one day he would have instead been able to reach his destination on foot, thus arriving sooner and on far lesser cost than taking the train. However, this no longer applies to today’s circumstances as a train ride through the city would not cost a whole day’s wage (in context with the middle-class majority).
Although Thoreau’s opinionated statements point to antipathy towards these modern improvements, it is evidenced that he did not outright condemn them. To him, the railroad was, “comparatively good, that is, you might have done worse; but I wish … that you could have spent your time better than digging in this dirt.” Thoreau would have preferred it if the multitude of men constructing railroads had spent more time on their intellect and well-being. However, he did not completely disregard the effectiveness of the railroad as it is “comparatively good” for its use. Gray Matthews wrote in his essay based on Walden and Thoreau’s journal, entitled, Introduction: Upon Hearing an Aeolian Harp:
One day in 1851, Henry David Thoreau entered a deep cut in the woods carved out for railroad tracks and heard a telegraph wire vibrating like an Aeolian harp…He explained that he had been listening to the wind “which was conveying a message to me from heaven” when it began to speak through the vibrating wire as it passed… (7).
Matthews then compares Thoreau’s description of the sound to that of listening to an Aeolian harp as he is reminded of how to “contemplate in a world of technology”. His depiction of Thoreau’s point of view towards technology is as follows:
Thoreau transcended the purposes of both the railroad and the telegraph in order to pay closer attention to what was infinitely higher. He did not complain or criticize the intrusion of mechanical forces at this time because he had already been paying rapt attention to the wind to begin with before he listened to it touch and pass over the most modern form of communication technology of his day (7).
This highlights the idea that Thoreau did not completely repel modern devices, but pushed aside his dissatisfaction and was able to accept them. From Thoreau’s words, Matthews ponders on the role of technology today, and whether we might be able to transcend the “purposes” of the internet and smartphones the way Thoreau had “transcended the purposes of both the railroad and the telegraph in order to pay closer attention to what was infinitely higher.” According to Matthews, the internet and all its glory not only “distract[s] our attention from serious things,” but also deceives us. We are drawn and caught within the intricate, unbreakable strands of the world wide web, and the images we see, the information we read, are not always the definite truth; or sometimes they are the truth, but they are moulded and defined to deliver only specific, chosen messages to the general public. We are deluded into thinking that the present world, and all that we are able to access – the infinite knowledge – is equivalent to paradise. We fail to look beyond because we are content with the heaven in our screens. All the knowledge within our modern devices is everything that has already been discovered, and what is yet to be discovered requires us to look beyond the rectangular screens before us. To quote Matthews from his essay:
How large must our monitors be to take in the sky? How can we Google paradise? What is the difference between a human face and its image? How do we practice detachment in a wireless environment? How do we see when we are deceived? (9).
While dissatisfied with man’s obsession towards “modern improvements” and yet still able to accept its role in society, Thoreau’s Walden points out his overall standpoint on the subject of progress in technology: “There is not always a positive advance,” Thoreau states. Even though society and the world continued to advance with these technological modernizations, Thoreau’s words continue to carry some truth to this day. We must be able to look beyond these “advancements” to see what is “infinitely higher,” dedicating more or just as much time and energy and passion into improving ourselves as with technology.
The Paradox of Language in Henry David Thoreau’s “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.”
Henry David Thoreau’s Walden embarks on a philosophical experiment with full intention in provoking conventionality. As an advocator of simplicity, Walden is ironically complex in terms of its sophisticated language and ratiocination, and the exactness in the execution of every observation makes it difficult to pass Thoreau’s thoughts off as coincidences. Such a complex position regarding language is revealed by a close examination of Thoreau’s classic chapter on nature, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.”
In the chapter, “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For” , Thoreau focuses on the exquisite intertwining of consciousness and nature as he writes with the noblest intention to promote frugality, resounding with the honest writing that he demonstrates throughout his entire quest for universal truth. Thoreau focuses on the intricate sense of interconnectedness between nature and humanity, as he fills his monologue with intense symbolism and imagery to illustrate this parallel. Through the likening of “reality” (Thoreau) as “a hard bottom and rocks”, and “opinion, and prejudice, and tradition” as “mud” and “alluvion”, Thoreau employs abstract symbols in conscious efforts to synthesise landscape and soul as one. The mixed sense of confusion and enlightenment we receive from such radical philosophy is within Thoreau’s deliberation as well. He relentlessly feeds us with bountiful of natural imagery, alluding time as “the stream [he] go[es] a-fishing in”, and that his “head is hand and feet” which he “would mine and burrow” through “hills” of unimportant opinions in search of truth. Amidst his intellectual postulation, Thoreau inserts playful puns such as “mine” being neurological and geographical, and time being “current” which connotes both sense of present and the symbolical stream in the passage. Such ambiguity intensifies the cohesion between spirituality and nature, thus offering the prose its transcendental quality.
Thoreau reinforces the paradoxical sense of arduousness in attaining simplicity through his complex language. The anaphoric repetition of “let us”, which evokes a sense of unification, encourages our participation in Thoreau’s revolutionary reformation of humanity. Thoreau also employs a multitude of narrative techniques to heighten the complex form of his prose. From “let us” to “if you” to “I”, Thoreau combines identity of nature, himself, and the rest of humankind to induce a palpable sense of connectedness between us and his exercise. He dares us to “spend one day as Nature” in an attempt to empower us since “nature” here embodies a continuous form of energy, a “morning vigour” unstoppable by neither physically “terrible rapid” nor emotional “perturbation”. While Thoreau suggests that this remap is “unrelax[ing]” and “upset[ting]’, he alludes our intellectual capacity to “Ulysses”, signifying divine strength in the human mind which he deems capable of overcoming the rigour in pursuit of conscious living.
Additionally, Thoreau challenges our retrospect of life by shattering conventional methodology. He instils a fresh allusion of to “drink[ing]” from “the stream [of time]” and evokes poignancy as he imagines “its thin current slid[ing] away, but eternity remains”, signifying the smallness of humankind in contrast with the limitless universe which parallels to the boundary of time which falls apart while eternity is unshaken. When he tries to “drink deeper”, he laments that eternity is akin to “the sky” that cannot “slide away” like the “shallow” time can. Thoreau’s underlying tone of distress as he “cannot count” and “know not the first letter of the alphabet” again augments the feebleness of humanity in relation to the vast knowledge that the universe has which we are powerless against since we are “not as wise as the day [we were] born”. Yet he urges us to seek for “the richest vein” and concludes the passage with the action of “begin[ning] to mine”, reasserting his persistence to pursue universal truth. Amidst the complex writing that Thoreau employs to reveal sensitivity, there is a recurring composition of seeking revelation despite limitations that is patterned throughout his speech, therefore justifying the simplistic attribute that he pursues.
While Walden may seem erratic and self-contradicting in its perplexing effort to interlace man and nature to advocate simple living, Thoreau undoubtedly demonstrates cohesiveness in his beliefs and his writing as he lives as deliberately as he writes. Perhaps he wishes that we work through the layers of his complex writing to reveal simplicity, just as how he explores the abundance of nature to uncover truth. In examining his prose, we exercise the self-reliance and remapping of soul that he endorses.
Thoreau, Henry David, and Henry David Thoreau. “Where I Lived, and What I Lived For.” Walden. Champaign, IL: Project Gutenberg, 1995. Kindle File. 15 September 2014.
Nature in the Eyes of Two Transcendentalists
Often referred to as the leading writer of transcendentalism, Unitarian Ralph Waldo Emerson directed thousands in the 19th century to rediscovery of self through his literature. Among them, young New Englander Henry David Thoreau mirrored Emerson’s revolutionary ideas yet simultaneously brought new ideals. In their works “Nature” and “Where I Lived and What I Lived For”, the authors demonstrate similarities through the pursuit of individualism and independence through nature. However, nature’s varying roles reveal the differences in the authors’ spiritual stances. Ultimately, the all-inclusive structure of Emerson’s piece establishes it as the more effective treatment of self and nature.
Both Emerson and Thoreau use descriptive imagery and metaphor to capture the grandiose and significance of nature in their followers’ lives. To both authors, nature is synonymous with freedom, freedom being escaping the rapid pace of the industrializing world. Thoreau mockingly comments on the constant expansion of railroads and the never-ending labor and grief that comes with it. In fact, he believes that innovations reveal that “[American society] is determined to be starved before [they] are hungry” (Thoreau 3). Continuing this thought, Emerson believes that when in “solitude” with the stars “no grace, no calamity” could ever befall him (7). Both authors live in the bustling industrial mid-19th century, however consciously remind their audience of the true joys that can be found in nature. Their language hints that industrial America is moving too quickly, and nature can bring inner peace as reprieve from exhausting drive. Nature achieves this as it is escape and sanction from obligation, ultimately defining freedom. These ideas sharply contrast the traditional New England Puritan views, where both authors are from, further establishing the advancement of the transcendentalist movement. Despite Puritanism being the “central strand of American cultural life until the twentieth century” (Delbanco) romanticism inspired movements that define American culture today. Predestination dictated that humans were unconditionally “depraved sinners” (Heyrman) unless predestined by God. Emerson’s and Thoreau’s messages directly juxtapose this in their embracing of nature, a previous source of fear and evil, and their urge towards seeing the complete picture and allow the individual to create their own destiny.
Despite displaying similar themes, Emerson and Thoreau have spiritual and political differences, all which underlie their message to return to nature. Thoreau acknowledges the artistic advancement gained in the age of enlightenment, however, revels in the ability to morally “carve and paint the very atmosphere and medium through which we look” (Thoreau 2). Emerson’s writing contrasts these ideas when he stands in nature with his head to the heavens, noting that “the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me” (Emerson 7). Thoreau views nature as a tool that when wielded can allow one to take charge of their own existence. Emerson believes that with nature’s assistance, individuals can see the world in a more omniscient view. One can also note that Thoreau’s vision is more radical than Emerson’s, as Emerson still acknowledges God’s view as the superior guiding force, with nature merely assisting man in seeing this vision. Additionally, the authors’ contrasting political views are revealed in the treatment of nature. After Thoreau comes to terms with his new living conditions, he proudly claims that he is the “monarch of all [he] survey[s]” (1). He holds very republican views, priding and valuing land ownership. This mirroring the self-made man and freehold ideal that made the American dream at the time. Nature is a tool in which man must wield to achieve happiness and balance, which Thoreau displays in his embracing of his simplistic lifestyle in the woods. Emerson’s nature is one more influential of point of view. He reflects on the properties that he saw that morning, stating that “none of them owns the landscape”. His socialist view on the topic brings the idea of nature belonging to nobody, but a force beyond the control of man. Emerson’s personification of nature mirrors those usually sought in God.
Ultimately, Emerson emerges as the more persuasive writer of the two in addressing the treatment on nature and self. This is because his message mobilizes all, while Thoreau’s message remains static and individualistic. Emerson broadly describes nature’s presence having the ability to “retain the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood” (7). By speaking in general and instructional terms, Emerson appeals to people’s spiritual senses of obligation and search for self-fulfillment. Furthermore, he uses imagery to personify nature, creating a dynamic and colorful character. It makes the piece engaging and vivid, appealing to a wider audience. He gives an example of this as he describes fresh air as a “cordial of incredible virtue” (Emerson 7). Thoreau’s key strategy is using a personal experience to engage his audience, describing his personal journey of buying his house, “sort[ing his] seeds, and collect[ing] materials” (Thoreau 1). Though specific and stirring, this is merely the description of a first-hand account as opposed to a stimulating drive to action. Emerson once again shines his superiority by integrating personal experience into his piece, expressing his gladness “to the brink of fear” finding himself alone in nature (7). By blending this imagery with his lecturing sentiments, he creates an image of freedom and self-realization by accepting nature into one’s heart. Though both authors have developed pieces that are loved to this day, Emerson’s short and magnetic “Nature” truly embodies the values of individualism and transcendentalism.
Although “Nature” and “Where I Lived and What I Lived For” represent vastly different approaches in embracing nature, both Emerson and Thoreau have successfully expressed Enlightenment ideas of individuality. Their blatant protest of more traditional and strict Puritan ideals, including innate fear and hatred of anything natural, reveals their radically innovative theories. However, the sheer genius created by the respective romantic authors are representative of the dynamic growth present in the mid-19th century that shaped modern America.
Delbanco, Andrew. “Puritanism.” History.com. A&E Television Networks, 2009. Web. 04 Dec. 2016.
Emerson, Ralph Waldo. “Nature.” Romanticism Auxiliary Packet, edited by Sarah Schol, Long Beach Polytechnic High School, 2016, 16.
Heyrman, Christine Leigh. “Puritanism and Predestination.” Divining America, TeacherServe©. National Humanities Center. 04 Dec. 2016.
Thoreau, Henry David. “Where I Lived and What I Lived For.” Romanticism Auxiliary Packet, edited by Sarah Schol, Long Beach Polytechnic High School, 2016, 16.
Persuasive Appeals in “Economy” and “Conclusion”
The autobiography Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau is a personal narrative describing how and why he performed his experiment of living at Walden Pond, close to nature. “Economy” describes Thoreau’s personal experience in the beginning of his time at Walden, while “Conclusion” sums up Thoreau’s beliefs about how people should live their lives. In the different sections of the essay, Thoreau uses the three basic persuasive tactics to convince readers that his beliefs are correct: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos invokes our rationale that people with personal expertise or experience on a subject are more credible than those without. Logos appeals to the rational part of our thinking because by nature we trust data and the idea of cause and effect. Pathos conjures up what we think and feel about different subjects using word choice (General). Authors try to persuade the reader using these techniques by appealing to various aspects of his or her thinking. In Walden, the section “Economy” and the section “Conclusion” share a common theme, which is that one can be self-reliant and live the simplest life possible in order to pursue one’s dream and ultimately one’s spiritual freedom. In “Economy”, Thoreau uses logos and ethos to develop his theme because he uses personal experience and his own records as evidence to support his view, but in “Conclusion”, he uses pathos because he states his opinion and reveals his passions, thereby appealing to the readers’ emotions and values.
A major element of “Economy” is the use of ethos to establish credibility, since Thoreau is a city man and conducted his experiment in order to gain some experience living in the wilderness. Ethos is the main way that “Economy” conveys Thoreau’s message that one should be self-reliant and live simply. He tells us that he “[has lived] alone, in the woods…[earning his] living by the labor of [his] hands only. [He has lived there] two years and two months”, and now he is “a sojourner in civilized life again” (Thoreau 217). Thoreau starts by buying an old, beat-up shanty, and the same morning he moves in, he takes “down this dwelling…and [removes] it to the pond side by small cartloads” (Thoreau 218). When building the house, he transports “two cartloads of stones up the hill from the pond in [his] arms” (Thoreau 218). In order to preserve food for the winter, he digs a cellar “in the side of a hill sloping to the south…down through sumac and blackberry roots, and the lowest stain of vegetation…to a fine sand” (Thoreau 218). Building a house is probably the most difficult part of making a living independently, but Thoreau, a city man, is successful at it. To both earn money and provide food for himself, he plants “about two acres and a half of light and sandy soil near [the house] chiefly with beans, but also a small part with potatoes, corn, peas, and turnips” (Thoreau 219), even though one farmer before has said that the land was “good for nothing but to raise cheeping squirrels on” (Thoreau 219). Although the land near Walden is not the most fertile, Thoreau is still able to provide sufficient food for himself. As far as fuel and staying warm are concerned, he has gotten “several cords of stumps in plowing”, and the remainder of his fuel consisted of “dead and…unmerchantable wood behind [his] house” (Thoreau 220). The fact that he is able to obtain so much fuel from Walden shows that nature already provides plenty of resources for us that we should make use of. Through his experiences of building his own house, planting his own crops, and gathering fuel from nature, Thoreau builds readers’ respect for him on the subject of being self-reliant and living a simple life.
“Economy” uses some logos to convey the fact that it is possible to live with only the basic human necessities and cultivate a living from one’s own hands. Thoreau meticulously keeps a list of expenses on his house. On his house, he spent a total of “$28.12 ½” (Thoreau 219), compared to a new home in Brooklyn, NY, which costs about $2,500 in the 1850s (History). Relying on his own labor, Thoreau got a home for one-hundredth of that price. In addition, he says that he spent “1.40” on transportation, because he carries “a good part on [his] back” (Thoreau 219). From his planting, he ends up getting “twelve bushels of beans, and eighteen bushels of potatoes, besides some peas and sweet corn” (Thoreau 220). Such quantities are definitely enough to sustain a person throughout the year. These statistics show that anyone, even a city man, can obtain the basic human necessities with his own labor. Through the careful keeping of records, Thoreau is able to buttress his argument because readers are more likely to believe what numbers tell them.
In contrast to “Economy”, “Conclusion” relies more on pathos to convey Thoreau’s ideas. Thoreau often directly states his beliefs with a confident or passionate tone. He tells us that “if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours” (Thoreau 228), revealing a passion and optimism that is not seen in “Economy”. Although there is no direct scientific evidence to support his statement, Thoreau arouses a strong inspiration in readers. He also tells us in “Conclusion” that people will become more enlightened about the universe if they simplify their lives. He writes that “as [a man] simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness” (Thoreau 228). Here, he uses irony and pathos to convey his belief that by living simply, one can turn around normally negative situations–poverty, solitude, weakness–into positive situations. Thinking about this makes readers feel inspired and more motivated to live a simple but meaningful life, which is the goal of pathos. Thoreau tells us in “Conclusion” that being self-reliant and living a simple life will ultimately allow one to achieve spiritual freedom: “[w]e will not be shipwrecked on a vain reality” (Thoreau 228). By “vain reality”, Thoreau is referring to a reality dominated by material goods. Thoreau believes that a life dominated by many material goods is more miserable than a life dominated by fewer material goods, because material goods cannot give inner freedom. Part of being self-reliant, according to Thoreau, is not trying to imitate others. After all, a “living dog is better than a dead lion” (Thoreau 228), meaning that a living dog should just be a dog and do useful activities, instead of trying to be a lion and not getting the goal. Thoreau makes readers question whether they have lost touch with themselves. He appeals to our values by using strong and emotional diction, stirring up our thinking about what type of life we want to live.
The use of different persuasive tactics–logos, ethos, and pathos–invokes different aspects of human psychology and creates different effects of persuasion in “Economy” and “Conclusion”. Thoreau first builds his argument to the rational side of our thinking by conducting the experiment at Walden and keeping careful records to convince the reader of his credibility and paves the way for his conclusion, then ends with strong, passionate words that appeal to our emotions. The use of the three tactics and the way it is set up makes the argument persuasive and provocative, and we leave with the feeling of inspiration. One gets slightly different impressions about Thoreau when reading the two passages, but both selections are equally convincing and powerful.