henry david thoreau 1817 1862 n.
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Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862). A Short Biography. Of the men and women who made Concord the center of Transcendentalism, only Thoreau was born there. He attended Harvard He might have made a career as a school teacher, but he resigned rather than inflict corporal punishment.

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a short biography
A Short Biography
  • Of the men and women who made Concord the center of Transcendentalism, only Thoreau was born there.
  • He attended Harvard
  • He might have made a career as a school teacher, but he resigned rather than inflict corporal punishment.
  • He was also a tutor, surveyor, and pencil manufacturer.
  • In 1842, he became a handyman at Ralph Waldo Emerson’s house.
abolitionist
Abolitionist
  • In the 1850’s, he became an outspoken abolitionist.
  • He was effective enough to be summoned to fill in for Frederick Douglas at a convention in Boston.
  • He was an active abolitionist, assisting in the movement of slaves toward freedom through the Underground Railroad.
walden
Walden
  • On July 4, 1845, Thoreau moved into woods owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson to write A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.
  • Some have suggested that he was declaring his independence from society.
  • Thoreau maintains that the date was “by accident.”
thoreau s journal
Thoreau’s Journal
  • Thoreau kept a journal while he lived in the woods; this journal became the basis of Walden.
  • After two years, two months, and two days, Thoreau left the woods, returning to care for Emerson’s household.
  • He both went to and left Walden Pond for practical reasons.
approaches to walden
Approaches to Walden
  • A book about nature--birds, plants, and animals
    • The book is about the life available to people living close to nature, living in harmony with nature
  • A satire on contemporary civilization
    • Thoreau laughs at what the common man takes seriously and vice-versa.
    • Thoreau’s life was an affront to his nonliterary neighbors who had to work and hadn’t had the privilege of going to Harvard.
    • He had a “habit of antagonism.”
3 an aesthetic object
3. An Aesthetic Object
  • The work is a carefully organized whole.
  • He often alternates themes in chapters.
    • solitude/visitors
    • spiritual/worldly
    • human/animal
  • Thoreau spent 26 months at Walden. The book takes only one year and includes incidents that didn’t even happen at Walden.
  • The persona he creates is pleasing, both arrogant and modest.
4 a lifestyle experiment
4. A Lifestyle Experiment
  • “What happens if one withdraws from routine to see what life is about?”
  • Habit<------------------------->Deliberation
  • Inauthentic<----------------------->Authentic
  • Death<----------------------------->Life
  • Shams<------------------------->Necessities
  • “Simplify, simplify, simplify!”
  • Thoreau’s purpose is ultimately philosophical or religious.
limitations of thoreau s approach
Limitations of Thoreau’s Approach
  • Thoreau was single.
  • Thoreau was a man.
  • Thoreau didn’t have dependent parents.
  • There was no IRS.
resistance to civil government
“Resistance to Civil Government”
  • On a trip into town to get a shoe fixed, Thoreau was asked to pay his poll-tax.
  • He refused, saying he did not wish to support a government waging war against Mexico or one that supported slavery.
  • He spent one night in jail. Someone, probably his mother, paid the poll tax for him.
influence of civil disobedience
Influence of “Civil Disobedience”
  • Thoreau’s writing about the incident has been of lasting social and political importance.
  • Many decades passed before anyone explicitly acted on the essay’s radical advice.
  • In 1906, Mahatma Gandhi, in his African exile, read it and made it a major document in his struggle for Indian independence.
  • In the United States, civil rights leaders such as Martin Luther King, Jr. tested his tactics of Civil Disobedience.
literary devices used by thoreau
Literary Devices used by Thoreau
  • Vivid metaphors--making the words live
  • Word Play
    • From Chapter 1 of Walden: “I was determined to know beans.”
    • From Chapter 2: “Let us rise early and fast, or break fast . . . determined to make a day of it.”
  • Irreverent Humor
emerson and thoreau
Emerson placed no value on the past. He wanted Americans to throw off tradition.

Emerson recognized and dismissed evil.

Career as a lecturer.

Thoreau valued the past, especially books. He both quotes and values reading.

Thoreau recognized evil and railed against it.

No career; odd jobs.

Emerson and Thoreau

Both Thoreau and Emerson inveigh against business, especially the rising consumer society devoted to arousing “artificial wants.”

thoreau s lasting influence
Thoreau’s Lasting Influence
  • Civil Disobedience--Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr.
  • 1960’s and 1970’s countercultural concerns for experiments in living
  • The general American concern for ecological sanity (Don Henley is a disciple.)
  • A model for hands-on approaches to nature--He was well-known to important naturalists of his time.