The religious parallels of Thoreau’s Walking

Henry D. Thoreau’s Walking contains religious parallels with wilderness representing paradise as he describes when he walks through the wilderness, “in the midst of paradise” (264).  Thoreau’s references to Adam and paradise, “As a patriot, I should be ashamed to think that Adam in paradise was more favorably situated on the whole than the backwoodsman in this country” (272), to demonstrate that the primitive woodsmen are more connect with nature through wilderness than Adam.  The argument Thoreau is conveying is that paradise was primitive before the arrival of Adam; paradise inNorth America is represented by the primitive wilderness not yet influenced by man who Adam represents.  Once Adam is introduced into paradise, man arrives inNorth America and the fall of man must occur.  This is represented by man developing the wilderness with greed and expansion being represented as Satan, “in the midst of paradise.  I looked again, and saw him standing…surrounded by devils…I saw that the Prince of Darkness was his surveyor” (264).  Another reference to Adam and the fall of man is discussed by Thoreau about man’s ignorance compared to man’s desire for knowledge:

A man’s ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but beautiful while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse than useless besides being ugly.  Which is the best man to deal with,—he who knows nothing about a subject, and, what is extremely rare, knows that he knows nothing, or he who really knows something about it but thinks that he knows all? (282)

This passage represents that it is knowledge and greed that separates man from paradise of wilderness and just as Satan tricked Adam and Eve into eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge which lead to their banishment of paradise, it is knowledge that man possesses that separates them from the primitive paradise of wilderness.

 

Thoreau, Henry D. Walden, Civil Disobedience and Other Writings. 3Ch./Art: Walden; Walking p5-70, 260-287. Pub. WW Norton 20080

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2 responses to this post.

  1. Dear a1002,

    I agree with you on the fact that Henry David Thoreau makes a lot of biblical references. To elaborate, I will focus on a few more examples from the text. For example, Earth is compared to a green apple in which humans take advantage of. Thoreau says “to his eyes, in fact, the globe itself is a great green apple, which there is danger awful to think of that the children of men will nibble before it is ripe…” (Thoreau 289). Therefore, this reference reminds me of Adam and Eve’s fall when they ate the apple God told them specifically not to eat. When Eve saw the apple it looked pleasing to the eye. As humans, objects, people, food, or whatever seems appealing to the eye usually catches our attention. In this example in particular, Earth, the green apple, is sustaining us humans. We in return instead of conserving it we eat the apple before it is ripe. This is a dangerous mentality because if we think we are superior to the apple then we might not give it so much importance and treat the apple any way we want. In respect to the quote on knowledge, Thoreau also quotes Confucius, he says, “to know that we know what we know, and that we do not know what we do not know, that is true knowledge. People sometimes believe they know that what they are doing is right or productive or true but in reality they are only fooling themselves. It is better to admit that you do not know something, get informed and then take action if necessary. What we don’t know can hurt us. Therefore the more informed we are the better. Some people will obviously try to take advantage of the system and find a way to exploit Earth so that they make some profit. I definitely agree with you on the fact that greed will corrupt a person. His solution is simplicity. We should get rid of those things that just complicate our lives.

    Thoreau, Henry D. Walden, Civil Disobedience and Other Writings. 3Ch./Art: Walden; Walking p5-70, 260-287. Pub. WW Norton 20080

  2. Although I noticed the religious and/or biblical references made by Thoreau in “Walking,” I did not see a parallel so reading your blog post was really interesting. Especially, since it allowed me to see another side to it. To add to your post Thoreau is not just seeing wilderness as paradise, but he also talks about a paradise that needs to be reclaimed! Walkers are crusaders in which they “go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels” (Thoreau 260). At first I had sort of chuckled at this line, but now I see that he seems to be saying civilization is evil, and walking – or the appreciation or return to wilderness/nature – is the way in which to wage a holy war, to return to the old ways. Thank you!

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