Part 1: Analyze the views of nature expressed by Emerson

Part 1: Analyze the views of nature expressed by Emerson and Thoreau
in this week’s readings. Then compare and contrast them to one another. You might also want to apply these themes of nature to overall thought of the Transcendentalists as a genre or discipline.
Part 2: What does Thoreau think of his contemporaries in “Civil Disobedience”? What in particular bothers him about them? Is there any societal expectation, convention, or behavior that you feel you would like to rebel against? Why?
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Study Guide by Course Hero What’s Inside Thoreau’s cabin and the center of his world for almost two
years, serving as the teacher of transcendental principles and
higher laws as well as the exemplar of the Romantic ideal of
nature. j Book Basics ……………………………………………………………………………………. 1
d In Context ……………………………………………………………………………………….. 1
a Author Biography …………………………………………………………………………. 3 d In Context h Characters …………………………………………………………………………………….. 3
k Plot Summary ………………………………………………………………………………… 6 Transcendentalism c Chapter Summaries …………………………………………………………………….. 9 Transcendental philosophy strongly influenced Henry David g Quotes …………………………………………………………………………………………… 21
l Symbols ……………………………………………………………………………………….. 23 Thoreau’s writing and provided the context in which he wrote
Walden. Transcend means “to rise above” or “surpass” the
normal limits of something. Transcendentalism is a philosophy
that draws from religious traditions such as Protestantism, m Themes ………………………………………………………………………………………… 24
b Motifs ……………………………………………………………………………………………. 25
e Suggested Reading …………………………………………………………………… 26 Buddhism, and Hinduism. The concept of Transcendentalism
proposes that humans have the ability to transcend the
physical world. By relying on personal impressions and trusting
one’s own authority, a person can understand the world, and
his or her place in it, in new ways.
Transcendentalism involves the following principles: j Book Basics The divine waits here on Earth for people to perceive it.
All natural beings possess a spark of the divine. AUTHOR Nature is inherently good and is humanity’s best teacher. Henry David Thoreau People must trust their own intuition, not society’s norms, to
guide them. YEAR PUBLISHED Americans should look to their own history and culture for 1854 inspiration. GENRE Ralph Waldo Emerson, a New England essayist and lecturer, Philosophy led the Transcendental movement. Emerson’s essay, “Nature,” ABOUT THE TITLE
Walden focuses on Walden Pond, the location of Henry David published in 1836, sets forth the ideas that base
Transcendentalism. The essay deals with the best way to
understand God and nature: through direct experience. Walden Study Guide In Context 2 Society is detrimental to this process; to become one with Thoreau uses a coal-burning cookstove (more efficient than a nature, it is important that solitude becomes central to the fireplace) rather than logs “since I did not own the forest.” experience. Emerson’s celebrated 1841 essay “Self-Reliance”
proved to be another major Transcendental document. In the The railroads made the Gold Rush possible. In 1848 gold was essay Emerson stressed that individuals should trust their discovered in California, and Thoreau did not welcome the deepest instincts and that intuition is the main source of discovery. As someone who strove for asceticism and purity, wisdom. He says that the truths gained through intuition are he hated the idea of people racing to California in search of shared and recognized by others and are universal. Other quick riches. In an 1854 lecture Thoreau said, “The rush to leading Transcendentalists, along with Emerson and Thoreau, California reflects the greatest disgrace on mankind.” included Margaret Fuller, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bronson Alcott,
and the poet and philosopher Walt Whitman. Utopian Communities The Industrial Revolution and The same century that saw the Gold Rush and a wholesale the Gold Rush Utopian farms with the goal of “plain living and high thinking.” Henry David Thoreau and many other Americans in the 19th important to Henry David Thoreau was Brook Farm. century witnessed what must have seemed to be inconceivably
rapid changes. In short order the railroad, the telegraph, and
factories revolutionized travel, communication, and production
methods. These industrial advances also brought feelings of
discontent to people who lived on farms, away from all the
interesting new progress. The values of rural America began to
seem quaint and unfashionable compared with urban life.
Agricultural production began to seem less important than the
manufacture of goods. embrace of industrialism saw some Americans establish
Eighty such farms were established in 1840, but the one most In 1841 the Unitarian minister George Ripley established Brook
Farm in West Roxbury, Massachusetts. Although Ripley was a
religious man, Brook Farm was the first nonreligious commune
of its day. Intellectual commune members decided that they
would pool their labor in this simple, wholesome community to
gain more time for studying and writing. Nathaniel Hawthorne
and journalist Charles A. Dana were two of the original
shareholders; Ralph Waldo Emerson and Bronson Alcott were
two celebrated visitors; and the commune’s weekly magazine, Rural Americans began to move to cities, seeking jobs in The Harbinger, featured essays by James Russell Lowell and industry. As the Industrial Age developed, it required both John Greenleaf Whittier. Brook Farm also established an workers and raw materials—lots of them. Lumber was needed excellent school for students from preschool through college- for fuel and construction in the emerging urban landscape, bound teens. making the woodcutting business a vast logging industry. Brook Farm flourished briefly and then disbanded and faded Because Walden documents living in the woods, Thoreau away. A nearby commune, Fruitlands, seemed to have faded writes about the effects of deforestation. In Chapter 4, away before it even began. The goal of its founders, Charles “Sounds,” he makes poignant reference to the changes: “With Lane and Bronson Alcott, was that the community should be a such huge and lumbering civility the country hands a chair to self-sufficient farm. Unfortunately, neither man had any farming the city.” Most likely, the word lumbering is intentional experience. wordplay. “All the Indian huckleberry hills are stripped, all the
cranberry meadows are raked into the city,” he continues,
describing the results of industrialization. Fruitlands, established in Harvard, Massachusetts, encouraged
extreme asceticism. Its members were forbidden meat, hot
baths, artificial lighting, alcohol, cotton clothing (because Thoreau also intensely cares about the use of wood as fuel in cotton came from the slave-owning South), and even conjugal rural areas. With the century’s advancing industrialization came sex. The heaviest burden at Fruitlands was borne by Bronson actual wood shortages in rural areas, and the writer notes the Alcott’s wife and their four daughters—including Louisa, who remarkable “value … still put upon wood even in this age” in later wrote a withering roman à clef (text in which invented “House-Warming.” In his second winter at Walden Pond, names are used in place of real names) about the farm. Copyright © 2017 Course Hero, Inc. Walden Study Guide Although Charles Lane paid lip service to the idea of equality Author Biography 3 figures influenced Thoreau heavily. between the sexes, it seems that the Alcott females ended up
doing most of the cooking and cleaning. Fruitlands collapsed Most of Thoreau’s intellectual friends were married, with after seven months, as soon as the weather started getting families and careers already in place; Thoreau lived by himself cold. and seemed disinclined to find a traditional job. Even among his
fellow Concord philosophers he was something of an oddity, Brook Farm and Fruitlands may not have lasted as although Louisa May Alcott fell in love with him and used him communities, but they both strongly influenced Thoreau’s way as the inspiration for the character Mac in her book Rose in of thinking. Both were principally guided by Transcendentalism. Bloom. At the time he decided to build the cabin at Walden, Both stressed detachment from worldly affairs and Thoreau had been living in Emerson’s house for months; he materialism. And both provided him with some of his few had also accidentally caused a serious forest fire that had readers when his work began to be published. He was friendly angered many Concordians. Perhaps he felt that this was an with members at both places, though he said he would “rather ideal time to experience life in the wilderness. keep bachelor’s hall in hell” than live at either.
In 1845 and using a borrowed ax, Thoreau constructed a small
cottage near Concord’s Walden Pond. The solitude and natural a Author Biography setting provided a perfect backdrop for serious writing.
Thoreau carried out his quest to live as simply and mindfully as
possible, as he grew his own food, rambled through the woods, Henry David Thoreau was born on July 12, 1817, in Concord, and read the great philosophers. His close observations and Massachusetts, a town near Boston. His father, a shopkeeper, lively descriptions of plant and animal life show that he took to moved the family from Concord to Chelmsford to Boston, and heart the notion of embracing nature as his teacher. then back to Concord. John Thoreau’s reputation of being too
lenient about payment might explain his record of business During the two years he lived at Walden, Thoreau wrote A failures. Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. In giving the
occasional lecture, he realized that his audiences wanted to The family’s return to Concord took place when Thoreau was hear about his life in the woods, so he began writing about six. His father started an in-house pencil factory, and his Walden Pond. He structured the book chronologically and mother, Cynthia Dunbar Thoreau, took in boarders. The pencil published Walden; or, Life in the Woods in 1854. business succeeded; ultimately, Thoreau himself would come
up with production modifications that made Thoreau pencils Thoreau left his cabin and moved back to Concord in 1847. His the top brand in America at the time. most famous essay, “Civil Disobedience,” was written after he
spent a night in jail for refusing to pay a poll tax, and he In 1833 Thoreau entered Harvard College, once remarking that published it in 1849. Thoreau also worked tirelessly for the the curriculum there had “all the branches and none of the abolitionist movement. He had contracted roots.” He had the bad luck of graduating during the Panic of tuberculosis—perhaps exacerbated by pencil dust—and 1837, a five-year depression during which employment levels became more and more incapacitated throughout the 1850s. dropped to the lowest they had yet been in the nation’s history. He died on May 6, 1862. Thoreau patched together a livelihood by surveying, teaching,
lecturing, and working at the pencil factory.
At around the time of Thoreau’s graduation, Ralph Waldo h Characters Emerson—a famous philosopher, pastor, and essayist—moved
to Concord. Emerson was soon followed by Margaret Fuller, an
editor, journalist, and writer; Bronson Alcott, a teacher and
writer (and father of writer Louisa May Alcott); and writer
Nathaniel Hawthorne. This would have been an extraordinary
concentration of intellectuals anywhere, but in a small town like
Concord the group was a powerhouse. Naturally, these notable Copyright © 2017 Course Hero, Inc. Thoreau
Thoreau portrays himself as a restlessly intelligent and honest
philosopher who views nature as a way to both learn about life Walden Study Guide and to understand higher truths. He goes to Walden, he tells
readers, to “live deliberately … and see if [he] could not learn
what it had to teach.” While he embraces solitude he has
friends and acquaintances, several of whom appear in Walden. The Woodchopper
Therien (the Woodchopper) is the closest character to a
“friend” in the book and appears three times. There are some
similarities between the two men, including their FrenchCanadian surnames and their choice to live away from society.
Both are thoughtful introverts and philosophers of a sort;
Thoreau has gleaned his philosophies mostly from reading the
classics. Therien rarely reads but has a fresh, original way of
thinking that Thoreau appreciates. Thoreau’s relationship with
Therien has its quirks. Although Thoreau admires the
Woodchopper, viewing him as a hero worthy of a Homeric
saga, he also views him as an oddity and often feeds him
questions just to see what he’ll say. Thoreau also emphasizes
what he calls Therien’s “animal nature”—a rather patronizing
label from a man who professes to be broadminded. The Poet
From the quotations in Walden, Channing (the Poet) was an
indifferent poet at best; Thoreau called his style “sublimeslipshod.” But he was a good friend to Thoreau, who was
grateful for Channing’s visits to the cabin. The Philosopher
In Walden, Thoreau says of Alcott (the Philosopher), “His
words and attitude always suppose a better state of things
than other men are acquainted with, and he will be the last man
to be disappointed as the ages revolve.” This is a polite
description of Alcott’s perennial dreamy optimism. Copyright © 2017 Course Hero, Inc. Characters 4 Walden Study Guide Characters 5 Character Map The Old Immortal
Ralph Waldo Emerson;
serene and wise essayist Friends The Poet
William Ellery Channing;
frequent visitor John Field
Irish laborer; eternal underdog
Neighbors Thoreau
Reflective, self-questioning
narrator Friends
Friends The Philosopher The Woodchopper Bronson Alcott; dreamy
Utopian thinker Alex Therien; humble yet
distinguished backwoodsman Main character
Other Major Character
Minor Character Copyright © 2017 Course Hero, Inc. Walden Study Guide Plot Summary 6 Full Character List an experiment: he wants to test his theories about how people
should live their lives: “It appears as if men had deliberately
chosen the common mode of living because they preferred it Character Description to any other. Yet they honestly think there is no choice left.”
Thoreau is determined to prove that there is a choice. Thoreau Thoreau is the philosophical narrator
in Walden who builds a cabin in the
woods. If one reads the first chapter (“Economy”) as a portrait of
Thoreau’s self-regard, it’s clear that feelings of failure and
disappointment underlie his strenuously prescriptive tone. The
Woodchopper The Woodchopper is the
pseudonym Thoreau uses for his
acquaintance Alex Therien. Thoreau doesn’t mention that before he moved to Walden
Pond—from 1841 through 1844—he’d been living with Ralph
Waldo Emerson’s family. Although Thoreau did household
chores and tutored the children, Emerson and his wife may The Poet The Poet is William Ellery Channing,
a good friend of Thoreau’s who
helped him build the cabin at Walden
Pond. have made it clear that he’d been a house guest for long
Thoreau may have felt out of place in 1844 when he and a The Philosopher The Philosopher was the
pseudonym Thoreau assigned to
Bronson Alcott, whose chief claim to
fame today is that he was the father
of Little Women author Louisa May
Alcott. friend accidentally started a forest fire that consumed 300
acres of virgin woodland and almost spread into the town of
Concord. He claimed not to be sorry: “I have set fire to the
forest, but I have done no wrong therein, and now it is as if the
lightning had done it,” he says. Knowing how Thoreau loved the
woods, though, it’s hard to read this as anything but defensive. The Old Immortal Thoreau never mentions Ralph
Waldo Emerson (identified as “the
Old Immortal”), on whose land he
builds his hut, by name. He is merely
described as a visitor who looked in
on him “from time to time.” His townspeople were certainly upset; for years thereafter he
was taunted as a “woods burner” in Concord.
As he begins to live at Walden Pond, he decides to reverse the
common pattern of working six days a week and resting on the
seventh: he will work one day a week and rest for the other six. John Field Thoreau seems to use John Field, an
Irish American laborer, as an
example of how not to live; Field
lacks self-reflection. He resolves to rely on money as little as possible. He will resist
the temptation to buy things he doesn’t need, including new
clothes. He also plants a two-and-a-half acre plot with beans
and other vegetables. He keeps careful track of his expenses,
hoping to show that he can make a profit despite working only
one day out of seven. Thoreau works on the cabin with great k Plot Summary energy.
Near-constant solitude gives Thoreau plenty of time to In the spring of 1845, Henry David Thoreau builds himself a cultivate his mind by reading philosophy, both Eastern and small cabin on a plot of land belonging to his friend Ralph Western, and communing with nature. He firmly believes that Waldo Emerson. Emerson permits Thoreau to use the property life will be improved for anyone who follows his example. For in return for improving the land by building on it and planting him, a second serious path to learning comes from observing crops or trees. Thoreau will live there, next to Walden Pond, for nature. On summer mornings Thoreau sits in his “sunny two years, two months, and two days, but the action of the doorway from sunrise till noon, rapt in a reverie, amidst the book is condensed into one calendar year. pines and hickories.” The writer extols this time spent as “far “I went to the woods,” Thoreau explains, “because I wished to better than any work of the hands would have been.” live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see Walden is organized chronologically. The autobiographical if I could not learn what it had to teach.” He views the move as narrative opens in early spring as Thoreau starts building the Copyright © 2017 Course Hero, Inc. Walden Study Guide cabin and takes his readers through each season, ending again
with spring. Each chapter offers a balance of Thoreau’s
activities, his observations on nature, and some philosophical
classical and contemporary references. Though he regularly
visits Concord and hosts visitors himself, he spends the bulk of
his time alone. This practice sharpens his perceptions and
heightens his senses.
Thoreau considers his trips to Concord as worthy of study as
any natural phenomenon. On one such trip he’s arrested for
nonpayment of his poll tax because he has withheld the
payment to protest slavery: “I was seized and put into jail,”
Thoreau states, “because … I did not pay a tax to, or recognize
the authority of, the State which buys and sells men, women,
and children, like cattle.” Transcendentalists, with their beliefs
in individuality, nonconformity, and divinity in each individual,
opposed slavery and what they considered unjust and immoral
laws that promoted it. In Thoreau’s case, an anonymous friend
pays the tax for him; but to Thoreau, the whole experience
confirms the intrusiveness of the State.
Walden features meticulous details derived from studying
natural phenomena. When Walden Pond freezes, Thoreau
thoroughly investigates the structure of pond ice; when he
notices a war between two ant species, he brings three of the
ants inside to watch the battle more closely. Walden balances
the author’s keen sympathy with nature with the wish to
observe his subjects dispassionately and truthfully. Thoreau
never sentimentalizes, but his love of the natural world shines
through all his experiments.
It is not completely clear why Thoreau leaves Walden Pond
when he does. Thoreau doesn’t bring up the topic until he’s
drenched his readers in a hefty dose of philosophy: “Perhaps,”
he says, “it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live,
and could not spare any more time for that one.” He adds that
he has at least learned that by advancing confidently toward
one’s dreams one will meet with unexpected success and
“pass an invisible boundary.”
The book ends with two famous and beautifully optimistic
sentences: “There is more day to dawn. The sun is but a
morning star.” Copyright © 2017 Course Hero, Inc. Plot Summary 7 Walden Study Guide Plot Summary 8 Timeline of Events Spring 1845
At 27, Thoreau uses a borrowed ax to begin building his
cabin near Walden Pond. Summer 1845
Thoreau clears the land for his bean field. Autumn 1845
Thoreau builds the cabin’s fireplace and chimney and
plasters the walls. Spring 1846
Thoreau surveys the size and depth of Walden Pond,
proving that it is not bottomless. July 1846
Thoreau is arrested for refusing to pay his poll tax and
spends a night in jail. Winter 1846
The “king of the ice industry” takes over Walden Pond for
ice harvesting. September 1847
Thoreau moves out of the cabin and back in with
Emerson’s family. Copyright © 2017 Course Hero, Inc. Walden Study Guide c Chapter Summaries Chapter Summaries 9 Analysis
“Economy” is a tough opener. Walden’s longest chapter, it is so Chapter 1 densely packed with ideas that it could have been its own
book. Some of the pronouncements in “Economy” have stood
the test of time; others seem lofty on a first reading: “Most men
lead lives of quiet desperation” is less impressive when the Summary reader considers that during his Walden years, Thoreau was
only 30 years old and had barely been out of Massachusetts. Thoreau’s stated purpose in “Economy” is to explain the
circumstances of his moving into a small cabin near Walden
Pond in Concord, Massachusetts. He’s eager to answer the
many townspeople who’ve asked him how he survived alone
there, “living sturdily and Spartan-like.” He’s even more eager
to describe how his two-year stay at Walden Pond helped him
to live out his principles, which he sets forth in great detail. The chapter reveals that apart from the fire, Thoreau felt out of
place in Concord. He speaks of doing volunteer work clearing
forest trails and paths, looking after “the wild stock of the town,
which give a faithful herdsman a good deal of trouble,” and
watering forest plants that “might have withered else in dry
seasons.” He concludes, half-jokingly and half-plaintively, that
because his fellow citizens were disinclined to pay him for this This chapter covers the basics of universal survival. Thoreau’s kind of thing, “I turned my face more exclusively than ever to basic philosophies speak to his determination to avoid a the woods.” conventional life: Read as a manifesto, “Economy” can seem overwhelming. “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation,” Thoreau Read as a young man’s wish to explain his search for a states, and argues that to banish this feeling, people should meaningful life, it becomes poignant. drastically simplify their lives and follow their individual
Working for pay is a form of enslavement and penance from Chapter 2 which people should free themselves.
People must shake off culture’s materialism as
demonstrated by the love of fashionable clothes and Summary luxuriously furnished homes.
If people want to learn how best to live, nature is a better Thoreau describes his long search for the perfect place to teacher than society. conduct his experiment in living. On his walks he has talked to Thoreau is not sure whether being “confined” to one
subject—himself—lessens the impact of his message. Nor is he
sure who the book’s audience will be. But he trusts his readers
to “accept such portions as apply to them.”
Thoreau is troubled by what he sees as the needless busywork
going on around him. He fears that his fellow citizens “are so
occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse
labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them.” He
hopes that his example may show that it’s possible to live a
simple, unfettered, and independent life if one is willing to
“march to a different drummer.” several farmers about buying their homes, although he had no
intention of actually taking ownership. The writer imagines that
he has “bought all the farms in succession” but “never got [his]
fingers burned by actual possession.” He clearly prefers his
meager cabin.
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