Presentation on theme: "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."— Presentation transcript:
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 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 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 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 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 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 “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 Thoreau was single. Thoreau was a man. Thoreau didn’t have dependent parents. There was no IRS.
“Resistance to Civil Government” On a trip into town to get a shoe fixed, Thoreau was asked to pay his poll-tax. He refused, saying he did not wish to support a government waging war against Mexico or one that supported slavery. He spent one night in jail. Someone, probably his mother, paid the poll tax for him.
Influence of “Civil Disobedience” 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 Vivid metaphors--making the words live Word Play –From Chapter 1 of Walden: “I was determined to know beans.” –From Chapter 2: “Let us rise early and fast, or break fast... determined to make a day of it.” Irreverent Humor
Emerson and Thoreau Emerson placed no value on the past. He wanted Americans to throw off tradition. Emerson recognized and dismissed evil. Career as a lecturer. Thoreau valued the past, especially books. He both quotes and values reading. Thoreau recognized evil and railed against it. No career; odd jobs. Both Thoreau and Emerson inveigh against business, especially the rising consumer society devoted to arousing “artificial wants.”
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.