Walden About the Selection



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Walden “Civil Disobedience”

Walden

About the Selection

  • Walden was published in 1854, seven years after Thoreau’s two-year residence at Walden Pond.
  • During the intervening years, Thoreau reflected upon and revised the journals he had kept at Walden.
  • A celebration of life and nature, Walden presents Thoreau’s views on society and his philosophy of life.

About the Selection

  • Thoreau expressed the belief that society has become too complex and fast-paced and that people should do everything possible to simplify their lives.
  • He also stresses the need to resist conformity and to follow our own inner voices, and he suggests that by doing so people can experience a spiritual awakening.

Plot

  • Did Thoreau truly intend to purchase a farm?
    • No, he was merely enjoying mental speculation about the land around him.

Evaluating Thought

  • “… for a man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone.” (p. 404)
    • The fewer encumbrances there are on one’s life, the richer and freer that life will be.

Speculation

  • Do you think Thoreau’s philosophy about a man’s wealth applies in today’s world?
    • Given today’s emphasis on material possessions, we may have difficulty adhering to his philosophy of simple living.

Allusion

  • “With respect to landscapes:
    • I am monarch of all I survey
    • My right there is none to dispute.”
    • William Cowper:
    • Verses Supposed to Be Written by Alexander Selkirk

“The real attractions of the Hollowell farm, to me, were: its complete retirement, being about two miles from the village, half a mile from the nearest neighbor, and separated from the highway by a broad field; its bounding on the river, which the owner said protected it by its fogs from frosts in the spring, though that was nothing to me; the gray color and ruinous state of the house and barn, and the dilapidated fences, which put such an interval between me and the last occupant; the hollow and the lichen-covered apple trees, gnawed by rabbits, showing what kind of neighbors I should have; but above all, the recollection I had of it from my earliest voyages up the river, when the house was concealed behind a dense grove of red maples, through which I heard the house dog bark.

  • “The real attractions of the Hollowell farm, to me, were: its complete retirement, being about two miles from the village, half a mile from the nearest neighbor, and separated from the highway by a broad field; its bounding on the river, which the owner said protected it by its fogs from frosts in the spring, though that was nothing to me; the gray color and ruinous state of the house and barn, and the dilapidated fences, which put such an interval between me and the last occupant; the hollow and the lichen-covered apple trees, gnawed by rabbits, showing what kind of neighbors I should have; but above all, the recollection I had of it from my earliest voyages up the river, when the house was concealed behind a dense grove of red maples, through which I heard the house dog bark.

Style

  • What point does Thoreau make through his use of repetition in his description of the Hollowell farm?
    • Repetition shows that he likes the farm because it is very isolated and private.

Paraphrase

  • “But I would say to my fellows, once for all, As long as possible live free and uncommitted. It makes but little difference whether you are committed to a farm or the county jail.” (p. 405)
    • Live life as simply as possible for as long as possible. Commitments can imprison a person.

Evaluating Text

  • What difference do you see between a person’s commitment to a farm and to a jail?
    • While both curtail one’s freedom through commitment, one is free to leave the farm or to sell it while one is not free to leave the jail.

Irony

  • “When first I took up my abode in the woods, that is, began to spend my nights as well as days there, which by accident, was on Independence Day, or the fourth of July, 1845, my house was not finished for winter…”
    • Thoreau is declaring his independence from the restrictions of complicated society.

Details

  • What was the state of Thoreau’s house in the woods when he first took up residence?
    • It was unfinished, without the insulation or inside walls that provide winter protection.
    • “… merely a defense against the rain, without plastering or chimney, the walls being of rough weather-stained boards, with wide chinks, which made it cool at night.” (p. 405)

Allusion

  • Olympus is a mountain in northern Greece and an important setting in ancient Greek mythology.
  • Described as the home of the gods, it was off-limits to mortals.
  • From it, Zeus ruled the 12 gods who governed the world.

Cultural Attitude

  • In the ancient Greek stories to which Thoreau refers, each Greek god was closely associated with a specific aspect of nature --- such as the sun or the moon --- or with specific emotions --- such a s love or anger.
  • The educated people of Thoreau’s day would have been familiar with the Greek language and lore, so a reference to Greek mythology in a discussion about nature would have been seen as totally appropriate.

“The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way, are all external and superficial, is just an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it as for them is in rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.” (p. 407)

  • “The nation itself, with all its so-called internal improvements, which, by the way, are all external and superficial, is just an unwieldy and overgrown establishment, cluttered with furniture and tripped up by its own traps, ruined by luxury and heedless expense, by want of calculation and a worthy aim, as the million households in the land; and the only cure for it as for them is in rigid economy, a stern and more than Spartan simplicity of life and elevation of purpose.” (p. 407)

Allusion

  • Spartan
  • Like the people of Sparta, an ancient Greek state whose citizens were known to be hardy, stoical, simple, and highly disciplined.

Evaluating Text

  • “It (the nation) lives too fast.”
  • Is this a good summary of Thoreau’s belief about American life?
    • If people worked to simplify their lives, there would be much less demand for material goods and new technology.

Evaluating Text

  • “We do not ride on the railroad; it rides upon us…” (p. 407) Do you agree/ disagree?
    • Technological progress enables people to expand their journeys --- both physical and spiritual. Some may disagree that progress is negative. However, technology demands a lot of people. It can, if not carefully managed, control us by requiring us to pay for it, care for it, constantly upgrade it, and speed up our lives to keep up with it.

Details

  • Why did Thoreau go to the woods?
    • He went to live simply and deliberately, to try to understand the essential facts of life.
    • “I went to the woods for as good a reason as I left there. Perhaps it seemed to me that I had several more lives to live, and could not spare any more time for that one.” (p. 407)

Evaluating Text

  • “ I learned this, at least, by my experiment; 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.” (p. 408)
  • What does Thoreau mean?

Evaluating Text

  • “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; that is where they should be. Now put the foundations under them…” (p. 408)
    • Thoreau espouses the belief that dreams are good and that one should work hard to meet those dreams. Dream big and then keep looking up, aspiring to catch up with your goals.

Literary Device - Metaphor

  • A metaphor is a figure of speech (a trope) in which one thing is described as being something else.

Literary Analysis

  • What metaphor does Thoreau use when he says: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.”
    • Man is compared to a musician who must follow the beat he hears in his head rather than what he is told to follow.

Rhetorical Questions

  • “It is not important that he should mature as soon as an apple tree or an oak. Shall he turn his spring into summer? If the condition of things which we were made for is not yet, what were any reality which we can substitute? We will not be shipwrecked on a vain reality.” (p. 408)
  • What is the effect of these questions?

Evaluating Text

  • “However mean your life is, meet it and live it; do not shun it and call it hard names. It is not so bad as you are. It looks poorest when you are richest. The faultfinder will find faults even in paradise. Love your life, poor as it is.”
    • Thoreau shares that when you are financially poor, you are rich because you value the simple pleasures in life. If you have money, then you ignore the little things and find fault even in paradise.

Details

  • What does Thoreau feel about superfluous wealth?
    • It is unimportant because it only buys unnecessary things.
    • Money cannot buy the truly necessary items of the spirit.

Metaphor

  • “… a strong and beautiful bug which came out of the dry leaf of an old table of apple-tree wood, which had stood in a farmer’s kitchen for sixty years, first in Connecticut, and afterward in Massachusetts --- from an egg deposited in the living tree many years earlier still, as appeared by counting the annual layers beyond it; which was heard gnawing out for several weeks, hatched perchance by the heat of an urn.”

Metaphor

  • To what does Thoreau compare the long-buried egg?
    • He compares it to our human vitality to our life energy, which can seem dead and buried but is still capable of emerging afresh.

Rhetorical Devices

  • Speaker – Henry David Thoreau
  • Audience – society as a whole; those curious about his life at Walden Pond
  • Purpose – to inform
  • Position – Only through living life simply and following their dreams can people be truly happy.

“Civil Disobedience” Defined

  • The deliberate and public refusal to obey laws that violate one’s personal principles.

Civil Disobedience

  • This selection is excerpted from a long essay, about 20 pages in length, in which Thoreau advocates civil disobedience.
  • Thoreau expresses his belief that government has been no more than an impediment to the productivity and achievements of the American people.

Background

  • The Mexican War took place from 1846 to 1848.
  • The U.S. was fighting Mexico over a dispute with the Texas-Mexico boundary.
  • The U.S. also was petitioning for the purchase of California and New Mexico.
  • Thoreau refused to pay his taxes because he refused to fund the war effort. He was jailed for breach.

According to Thoreau

  • Philosophically, he stands opposed to the government.
  • Practically, he urges readers to try to make a better government, one that commands respect.

“Government”

  • “That government is best which governs least.
  • Thoreau believes that there should be as little government as possible because it generally creates more problems than it solves.

Universal Idea

  • Thoreau asks his readers to step forward and state what they want from a government.
  • Is this a possibility? Does this happen today?

Rhetorical Devices

  • Speaker – Henry David Thoreau
  • Audience – citizens of the U.S.
  • Purpose – to persuade
  • Position – A government is only as strong as the people it serves. If people are not willing to tell the government what they want, then government will function on its own unguided path.


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