Posts Tagged ‘Walden’

Topic Proposal: Social ecology and Eco-Marxism in Thoreau’s Walden and The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.

I want to write about how the social ecological and eco- marxism trope can be seen in “the Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein and in Henry David Thoreau’s “Walden.”I am interested in writing about this topic because “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein was the first children’s book that impacted my life in relation to learning how to treat my environment. Despite Thoreau’s “Walden” being a 19th century piece of literature it still relates to our contemporary culture because it addresses issues like exploiting land, how money plays a role in society and proposes a different kind of lifestyle, that of simplicity. Both of these literary piece although intended for different audiences and different time eras, grasp the nature of humankind and address it. In Thoreau’s “Walden” we can see how money plays a big role in society and we see this in the example of when he wants to build home or the reason why he went to live in the woods. Moreover, I want to focus on on how prosperity does not need to be simply monetary but also, living in peace with Nature. That is where Silverstein’s “The Giving Tree” comes in because the main character used the Tree his whole life and never returned anything to the Tree. Nature is presented as being innocent and constantly being robbed.

Questions I want to focus on:
1. How is a form of economy presented in “The Giving Tree?” How does this relate to the form of economy presented in Walden?
2. How are eco sociology and eco marxism tropes presented in both “Walden and The Giving Tree?
3. Although “The Giving Tree” was intended for a children’s audience, how does this story appeal to eco critics?
4. In “Thoreau’s “Walden” does he appeal to ethos, pathos, or logos the most? Why?

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Floridian: The wild man of Lilly Spring

Floridian: The wild man of Lilly Spring.

Another article about Ed, complete with references to Thoreau’s Walden!

2. Analysis of the function of wilderness in “Walking”

In “Walking,” Henry David Thoreau uses the wilderness as a place in which he emphatically encourages people to seek refuge from their daily woes. Thoreau consistently describes the wilderness as an escape, somewhere a person can go to and simply be free. Thoreau highlights the wonder of the wilderness through “the art of Walking” (260) which he insists is an activity that one should partake in for a good four or more hours a day. For Thoreau it seems that the wilderness is merely a refuge, it offers to him no commercial value nor does he see it in that respect. This view of the wilderness as a haven from the every day is a very idealistic image as well as one that cannot hope to be adopted by people from all social classes.

Through his admiration of the wilderness and his countless hours spent walking through it, Thoreau forgets that many people do not have the luxury of time nor the financial ability to appreciate nature only for its intrinsic value. While Thoreau is content to spend his time “sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements” (262) others in lower social classes are forced to work, many of them plowing the fields that Thoreau does not appreciate. This whimsical approach to wilderness could simply be overlooked were it not for the audacity of Thoreau to belittle the livelihoods of the people who make their living off the commercial value of nature, “Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps” (174).

This delusion of nature and its tangible qualities and values begs the question of whether Thoreau is credible in his view of the wilderness. He views it romantically, “the jewel which dazzled me” (174) but seems to forget that where it not for the exploitation of this jewel he would not have the roof over his head, the paper he is writing on, or the other luxuries in his life that nature affords him. Thoreau’s acclaim for wilderness is essentially useless in that it is merely the idea that nature is to be enjoyed and rarely to be used, an idea that has never nor will ever substantiate society.

Thoreau, Henry D. Walden Civil Disobedience and Other Writings. 3Ch./Art: Walking p. 260-287. pub. WW Norton 2008

Unattainable Wilderness In Walden

According to Thoreau, in order to attain a true connection with Wilderness, you will need to strip yourself of almost everything we have come to establish as normal and valued- possessions such as money, luxury, and even the acceptance of technology. A connection to Wilderness is represented as generally unattainable in Walden because of the extreme simplification of human life one must undertake to become closer to the land. This being so, Thoreau indicates how difficult it is for the wealthy to truly have a connection with the land, wilderness, and thus, themselves.

Thoreau argues that men cannot appreciate “[life’s] finer fruits” if they “are so occupied with the factitious cares and [superfluous] coarse labors of life” such as wealth, work, and luxury (Thoreau 7). In this way, Thoreau differentiates himself from the modern man and demonstrates how his lifestyle has brought him closer to nature than a civilized man could claim to be. Interestingly, Thoreau shows that the very luxuries men work their whole lives to obtain are, in actuality, “hindrances to the elevation of mankind” (Thoreau 13). He argues that we get wrapped up in consumption stating we will “surely not [want more of the same but rather] richer food, larger and more splendid houses …more numerous incessant and hotter fires, and the like” (Throreau 14). By always being consumed by wants we are brought farther away from all things natural and are not drawn to the organic lifestyle that Thoreau advocates for.

Thoreau does not make it easy for man to be connected with nature by any means. Who would want to adopt his meager lifestyle? He seems to imply that you are either living a bare “[simple] and [wise]” life and enjoying a relationship with wilderness or you are working your life away for material possessions that will drive you even further from nature- is there no middle ground in this extreme scenario (Thoreau 51)?  Although he claims it is not, Thoreau seems to write an “ode to dejection” claiming you must choose either one or the other when it comes to human interaction and luxuries and a relationship with Wilderness (Thoreau 60).

Thoreau, Henry D. Walden, Civil Disobedience and Other Writings. 3Ch./Art: Walden; Walking p5-70, 260-287. Pub. WW Norton 2008

The Political Function of Nature in Thoreau’s Walden: “Walking”

In the chapter “Walking” excerpted from Walden, nature is depicted as an Edenic real separate from that which man normally inhabits, and is portrayed as having some inherent sacred meaning that is available only to a certain type of man with inborn capabilities. Throughout the chapter, Thoreau outlines his contradictory perspective of the wild environment, praising its spiritual value and advocating that it be accessible to all men, yet underscoring the exclusivity of the true capacity to interpret nature using his ideal framework to a select group.

He outlines a specific type of man in his writing called a Walker. This is one who possesses the ability to remember the minutest of details of nature walks from years ago; this man is not merely one who casually strolls through the woods on his way to the country store or, say, a woman who enjoys picking flowers for their beauty.

According to Thoreau, “No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence, which are the capital in this profession. It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a Walker.” (Thoreau, 261)

This description of the idealized Walker is laden with political implications. For the sake of example–to say that one must possess a gift from God in order to appreciate public nature grounds is more subjective than to say the poor man who works the land with his hands can better appreciate it than the rich man who owns it, because he is more physically involved in its cultivation. Thoreau’s designation of a divinely selected class of “Walkers,” being defined by no objective political measurement system or standard, implies that the selection and labeling of these Walkers is entirely up to the author himself.

As a point of argumentative contrast, Thoreau later presents the idea that private landscape (ideally) ought not exist. He states, “the best part of the land is not private property; the landscape is not owned, and the walker enjoys comparative freedom.” (Thoreau, 267) Ideologically, it seems as though the writer doesn’t quite know which position to take. He advocates for increased physical accessibility of the land while boldly claiming in a way akin to philosopher John Calvin (the author of the ideology of predestination) that it can only be truly appreciated by a few. By the end of the reading, I was convinced he was merely trying to carve out a special place for himself in nature rather than improve anyone else’s ability to appreciate the wilderness.

Thoreau, Henry D. Walden, Civil Disobedience and Other Writings. 3Ch./Art: Walden; Walking p5-70, 260-287. Pub. WW Norton 2008

Group 2’s Third Blog Post

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) in June 1856 (...

Henry David Thoreau in June 1856, Aged 39. Image via Wikipedia

For this blog response, you have a few different writing options. Choose only ONE of these topics to write your response. Be sure to make it clear which question you chose in the subject line of your post. Remember, this blog response is for Group 2 only!

  1. Write an eco-Marxist analysis of Thoreau’s “Economy” chapter in Walden and/or his essay “Walking.” You may want to review Garrard’s brief overview of eco-Marxism in Chapter 2 of Ecocriticism, but what I am looking for is an analysis of how nature and economy function in the text. You do not need to use any technical Marxist/eco-Marxist terms, though you are more that welcome to do so if you have some knowledge of Marxist/eco-Marxist theory. Some questions to consider include: What arguments does Thoreau make about how nature is valued in nineteenth century American capitalism? According to Thoreau, how are humans valued within that system (and does he see humans as part of or distinctly separate from nature)? What solutions (if any) does Thoreau posit to the problems he poses and who are they accessible to? Do you see those solutions as plausible, and why or why not? Do you think that Thoreau’s own class position undermines his arguments or limits the extent to which we could view him as sharing eco-Marxist or social ecologist viewpoints? Why or why not?
  2. Give an analysis of how wilderness functions in Walden and/or “Walking.” Some questions you may want to consider include: How is wilderness represented/valued (for example, as Eden, evil, sacred, pure, threatening, etc)? What are the “politics of wilderness” (Garrard 77) of the text; in other words, how is wilderness a site of gender, class, and/or racial struggle? Who or what is included/excluded in the text’s conception of wilderness?
  3. Find a contemporary newspaper or magazine article that relates to an idea in Walden orWalking.” In your response, explain the connection between the article and Thoreau’s text, making sure to quote from each to showcase the connection. Besides giving a BRIEF summary of the article and thoroughly explaining the connection to Thoreau, be sure to also address the significance of the connection. In other words, what do we gain/learn from connecting Thoreau to this contemporary issue (or, if you prefer, from connecting this contemporary issue back to Thoreau)? You are also required to include a link to the article in your post.
  4. After reading “James Russell Lowell on Henry David Thoreau,” do you agree with Lowell’s assessment of Thoreau? Why or why not? In your response, be sure to quote from Thoreau’s Walden and/or “Walking” to support your answer. (As a reminder, Lowell’s discussion on Thoreau can be found on pgs. 479-482 of the course pack).
  5. After reading the excerpt from “A Critical Glance into Thoreau” by John Burroughs, do you agree with Burroughs’ assessment of Thoreau? Why or why not? In your response, be sure to quote from Thoreau’s Walden and/or “Walking” to support your answer. As a reminder, Burroughs’ discussion on Thoreau can be found on pgs. 487-489 of the course pack. (Note: This reading is not due until the week of October 18th. I accidentally added it to this week’s blog questions because I confused it with Lowell. I am keeping it on this week’s list of options in case anyone already started answering this question for this week. However, if you have not yet started your response, do not choose this one because it requires extra reading.)

Remember, your posts should follow these requirements and guidelines:

  • Posts must be at least 300 words.
  • Posts must include at least one quote from the text. If you are writing about more than one text, then you’ll need at least one quote from each as support. If the question you chose asks for more than one quote in the instructions above, then be sure to follow those instructions.
  • Stay focused on answering the prompt question above. Avoid repeating the question and be as specific as possible in your answer.
  • Please note that you do not need to answer every “thinking question” I have posted (the questions after the bold directive). These are just options, so you could focus on one or a few. Avoid writing a response that looks like a Q & A or laundry list of answers to these smaller questions; make sure your response flows smoothly and has unity.
  • Your response should make an argument, not summarize the text. If some summary is asked for in the prompt you chose, keep that summary brief and concise.
  • Use specific moments from the text(s) to support and illustrate your argument.
  • Be sure to introduce, quote, cite, and comment on all quotes.
  • Don’t forget to tag your posts! Before adding a new tag, check the “choose from the most used tabs” menu to make sure it is not already listed.
  • Don’t forget your Works Cited!

Group 2, your blog response is due by class time on Tuesday, October 11.

Group 1, blog comments are due by class time on Thursday, October 13.