Essay, Research Paper: Walden By Thoreau

Literature: Romanticism

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Most people think Thoreau to be in the shadow of Wordsworth. Thoreau strongly
seeks to evade Emerson wherever he cannot revise him directly. Only
"Walden" was exempt from censure. Thoreau was a kind of American
Mahatma Ghandhi, a Tolstoyan hermit practicing native arts and crafts out in the
woods. He was not really an oppositional or dialectical thinker, like Emerson,
though certainly an oppositional personality, as the sacred Emerson was not.
Being also something of an elitist, again and unlike Emerson, Thoreau could not
always manage Emerson's building up a kind of Longinian discourse by quoting
without citation. "Walden," for its incessant power, is frequently
uneasy because of an unspoken presence, or a perpetual absence that might as
well be a presence, and that stated in Thoreau's journal: Emerson does not
consider things in respect to their essential utility, but an important partial
and relative one, as works of art perhaps. His probes pass one side of their
center of gravity. His exaggeration is of a part, not of the whole. This is only
a weak misreading of Emerson. However, it attributes to Emerson what is actually
Thoreau's revision of Emerson. Thoreau was also a kind of Gnostic, but the rebel
Thoreau remained a Wordsworthian, reading nature for evidences of a continuity
in the ontological self that nature simply could not provide. "Walden"
is considered as both a simple and a difficult text, simple in that readers feel
a sense of unity. It is difficult in that they have been persistently perplexed
and occasionally exhorted in form. The primary question is to seek what Walden
means. There is also the concern with Walden's style. Walden's meaning can be
explained in two different ways. The first is by introducing a distinction
between form and content which simultaneously focuses attention on the question
of form and reduces content to little more than banning. From the first move
follows the more interesting and more pervasive second meaning. The
preoccupation with Walden's formal qualities turns Walden's meaning in a simple
sense. The assertion is to examine the form of any literary artifact, which is
to identify its essential unity, thus the concern with Walden's structural
wholeness is integrated well in the book. In other words, one can say that the
common moral of "Walden" is the virtue of simplicity. Thoreau
substituted words like poverty, a word which set him apart from his
materialistic neighbors. "By poverty," he said, "simplicity of
life and fewness of incidents, I am solidified and crystallized, as a vapor or
liquid by cold. It is a singular concentration of strength and energy and
flavor. Chastity is perpetual acquaintance with the All. My diffuse and vaporous
life becomes as frost leaves and spiculae radiant as gems on the weeds and
stubble an a winter morning." Such poverty or purity was a necessity of
Thoreau's economy. By simplicity, which Thoreau called poverty, his life becomes
concentrated and organized. "Walden" filled Thoreau's immediate need
of self-therapy. In this perspective, "Walden" is the resolution
Thoreau was able to fulfill through art. He had effected his own resolution
through cautious endeavor and mature serenity. However, this serenity of
Thoreau, is a victory of discipline. He says it is the highest aim in life,
which requires the highest and finest discipline. To become one with Nature is
to become a soul reflecting the fullness of a being. His desire to perceive
things truly and simply resulted in his belief that fatal coarseness is the
result of mixing trivial affairs of men. In order to justify his devotion to
purity he wrote "Walden." He believed that when men is able to find
his natural center, a promise of the higher society man is possible. Like other
works of his time, it has the unique effort of American romanticism. It has
impressive individualism and the desire for experience. In the end, Thoreau
stated that if a man's writings are interpreted more than one version, it is
considered a ground for complaint. He wanted "Walden" to be a fact
truly and absolutely stated, otherwise he would have considered it a failure if
is served only to communicate an eccentric's refusal to go along with society,
if taken literally. "Walden" is an experience of the cosmic travels of
the self. At Walden pond, he wrote that the imagination of oneself is the best
symbol of our life. He went to Walden pond because he wanted to find a place
where you can walk and think with the least obstruction. He wanted a road where
he could travel and to recover the lost child that he is without any ringing of
a bell. The nature of the occupation of primitive concerns with essentials like
building a hut, planting, harvesting beans, fishing and naturalizing, gives each
its spiritual quality. "Walden" was Thoreau's voyage for a reality he
had lost, and it was a quest for purity. Purity to Thoreau was a return to the
spring of life, to the golden age of his youth and senses. Warden follows the
cycle of developing consciousness, a cycle that parallels the change of the
seasons. It was a matter of purification because Thoreau had reached the winter
of decay at the time "Walden" was being revised for the press. Thoreau
was not a naturalist but a natural historian of the intellect using natural
facts as symbols for his quest for inspiration. He said that the natural world
reflects ourselves. In this sense, the Walden pond was the symbol. His purpose
was not to return to nature, but to combine the hardiness of savages with the
intellectualness of the civilized man. The civilized man to Thoreau, is a more
experienced and wiser savage; Life is most rewarding when chaneled by
intellectual principles.
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