Thoreau Views on Nature, Society, and Man Essay Sample
- Word count: 1523
- Category: transcendentalism
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Thoreau Views on Nature, Society, and Man Essay Sample
Henry David Thoreau’s life began on July 12, 1817 in Concord, Massachusetts. At a young age he began to show an interest in writing. In 1833, at the age of sixteen, Thoreau was accepted to Harvard University. Although his parents could not afford the cost of tuition, his family offered to help with the funds, and in August he entered Harvard. In 1837 he graduated and applied for a teaching position at a public school in Concord. However, he refused to flog children as punishment. He choose instead to deliver moral lectures. The community looked down upon this, and a committee was asked to review the situation. They decided that the lectures were not ample punishment, so they ordered Thoreau to flog disobedient students. With disapproval he lined up six children after school that day, flogged them, and handed in his resignation. He felt that physical punishment should have no part in education.
In 1837, Henry David Thoreau began to write his journal. It started out as a literary notebook, but later developed into a work of art. In it Thoreau recorded his thoughts and discoveries about life. From 1841 to 1843 and again between 1847 and 1848 Thoreau lived as a member of the Emerson’s household. In early 1845 Thoreau decided to make a journey to nearby Walden Pond, where Emerson had recently purchased a plot of land. He built a small cabin overlooking the pond, and from July 4, 1845 to September 6, 1847 Thoreau lived at Walden Pond (World Book 266). In that time period Thoreau attempts to understand something’s about man’s struggle with nature, society, and oneself in his writings of Walden and “Civil Disobedience.”
Henry David Thoreau focused his writings on how man was affected by nature. He wrote from an autobiographical point of view revealing his own internal conflict with mans struggle against nature. In his novel Walden, he reveals his mental and spiritual beliefs through a personal journey in which he strives to become in tune with nature, working not to be victorious over these universal forces, but rather to participate in harmony with nature, in tern exposing love and truth. By using nature as an entity to explain certain truths of human existence, he stresses the essential role that nature plays in society and the importance of man’s relationship to nature. Thoreau focuses on nature as a “reflection of an inner spiritual reality.”
He believes nature to be the highest physical reality on Earth; transcending human experience and only by understanding nature can a person understand oneself. He would most likely agree that visual representatives of nature are the keys to deepening human understanding of existence. He says that “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is dear, nor did I wish to practice resignation, unless it was quite necessary” (Thoreau 63-64). This shows dedication that he has to finding the truth in nature. He intends to learn from it and make it vulnerable to it.
People have spent centuries pondering the relationship between citizens and their government. Thoreau introduced an idea of man as an individual, rather than a subject, by thoroughly describing the way a citizen should live in many of his works. Thoreau’s essay, “Civil Disobedience,” accentuated personal ethics and responsibility. It urged the individual to follow the dictates of conscience in any conflict between itself and civil law, and to violate unjust laws to invoke their repeal. He directly supplements these arguments he presents in his essay. One night in July in 1846, during his stay at Walden, Thoreau was walking into Concord from the pond when he was approached by the jailer, and charged with not paying his poll tax. Thoreau did not pay his poll tax since 1843 when a friend of his spent the night in jail for not paying his. He did not see why he should have to pay the tax, he had never voted, and he knew that the political tax had to be related with the funding of the Mexican War and the support of slavery, both of which he strongly objected to.
In Walden, he questions the lifestyles that people choose. He makes his readers wonder if they have been chosen the kind of life that will really offer them happiness. Are they merely living a career or some other narrowly routine or is a worthwhile life being lived. Thoreau wonders if the truly valuable elements of life are being taken advantage of if a person is not living simply. If a person is so caught up in working or never having enough in life, one wonders, and satisfaction are difficult to obtain. As he states in the beginning Walden, “most men, even in this comparatively free country, though mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that is finer fruits cannot be plucked by them” (Thoreau 6). This means that people care more about the finer things in life and easier work instead of nature’s gifts and hard work. Thoreau draws a parallel between others preoccupation with money and his own enjoyment of non-monetary wealth.
Thoreau discusses the issue of how we spend our time and energies. It is obvious that his townspeople are not as economical as they spend many hours working very hard to accomplish very little, showing a false sense of economy. Thoreau believed that all attempts to redeem mankind form its problems were useless unless such attempts began with the person. Thoreau thought that by living simply with few needs or material possessions man would have more time to enjoy life its fullest natural potential.
Most of Thoreau’s writings had to do with Nature which caused him to receive both positive and negative criticism. Walden is filled with sarcasm, criticism, and observations of nature, life, and society, and is written in a very unique style. Walden has been described as an elaborate system of circular imagery which centers on Walden Pond as a symbol of heaven, the ideal of perfection that should be striven for. Thoreau was known to be an American writer, philosopher, and naturalist who believed in the importance of individualism (Encarta). It has also been said that Thoreau’s style shows an unconscious, but very pointed degree of Emerson’s influence. However, there is often a impoliteness, and an inartistic carelessness in Thoreau’s style that is not at all like the style of Emerson.
Thoreau friends even thought of him as being a failure. Emerson condemned him for being but “the captain of a huckleberry party” when he should have been “engineering for all America” (Foerster 412). As a prestige critic James Russell Lowell charged “Thoreau with lacking humor, not having a health mind, and wanting in ability to observe accurately” (Foerster 412). Thoreau possessed an amazing strong point for expressing his many observations in vivid color. Fred Lewis Pattee said, “No one has ever excelled him in the field of minute description. His acute powers of observation, his ability to keep for a long time his attention upon one thing, and his love of nature and of solitude, all lend a distinct individuality to his style” (Pattee 226).
In conclusion, Henry David Thoreau strives for freedom and equality. He was opinionated and argumentative. He stood up for what he believed in and was willing to fight for it. Thoreau did not receive widespread for his work attention until the depression in the 1930’s. The people of this time had to live with the simple things in life that Thoreau described in his writings. In this time he was referred to as “the only author you can read without a nickel in your pocket and not feel insulted” (Foerster 412). This was a typical statement in that period of time. Thoreau’s passion for this philosophy was evident in all that he wrote and all that he did. He held to his beliefs and encouraged others to find what transcendentalism could mean to them. Each individual has the power to create a separate and meaningful form of the philosophy for themselves. Today’s society has placed its focus on the luxuries they can obtain.
The basic amount of food, shelter, clothing, and fuel has shown an increase in demand from today’s society. Living the life of luxury is a goal among many individuals in our society. Society no longer lives a simplified life as Thoreau did. Thoreau taught that man can live with the four basic necessities of life, but often chooses not to do so. After reviewing Walden, Thoreau has shown himself as being a prophet of twentieth-century problems. The world has increasingly become worse in regards to a materialistic outlook. His teachings and writings had an amazing affect on people and the world, and will have for centuries to come.