Walden, Economic Injustice, and the Commercialization of American Society
Thoreau on Intellectual Pursuit: Journal Entry Interpretation

Thoreau’s Slavery in Massachusetts: Today’s Journalism and Politics


            Any true Thoreauvian would already have made note of some of the interesting parallels between today’s social problems, and the contemptuous tone of Slavery. Not only that, any bona fide scholar would probably not even find these parallels noteworthy. But me ensconced in my Thoreauvian passions, busily kissing the cover of Walden and wondering why I never noticed the strange Transcendental past creeping up on the horrifying present, simply can’t repress my excitement and shared anger.

            I just love what he says about the torrid state of journalism and the witless readership, and I couldn’t agree more, especially when I think about a certain, local, education reporter, “And as they live and rule only by their servility, and appealing to the worst, and not the better nature of man, the people who read them are in the condition of the dog that returns to his vomit” (188). He is spot-on with this description and its garish imagery, its humorous undertones.

            This is why I abstain from the local rag, but sometimes buy a sweat-covered copy from the homeless man on the corner. My son and I hand over our 4 bucks, throw the mess on the floorboard, and stow it quickly in the recycle bin without ever taking it from the garage to the house. But just like Thoreau, “When I have taken up this paper with my cuffs turned up, I have heard the gurgling of the sewer through every column” (188).

            Finally, just a little bit of shared fear about the upcoming election. Today I saw a cute online post that read “Out of 318million people this is all we could come up with?” Underneath the caption it had a couple of very unflattering pictures of Clinton and Trump. If you read the first full paragraph of page 190 without getting chills, then you are simply not paying attention:

“The amount of it is, if the majority vote the devil to be God, the minority will live and behave accordingly, and obey the successful candidate, trusting that some time or other, by some Speaker’s casting vote, perhaps, they may reinstate God. This is the highest principle I can get out of or invent for my neighbors. These men act as if they believed that they could safely slide down hill a little way—or a good way—and would surely come to a place, by and by, where they could begin to slide up again” (190).

I think it’s safe to say that we are almost at the bottom of the hill, and it is pretty hard to slide back up. This isn’t the right forum for a complete breakdown on how we managed to slide down this far, but every voter is aware of what is happening, at least in some sense.

            This brings me to a slightly mystical, but relevant, and slowly developing, belief about the Transcendentals. We know of the soul/mind connection to the past via language, specifically ancient texts, and how Thoreau believed this was somehow supernatural i.e. God. Now we are doing a close reading of Thoreau, and we are finding ourselves on every page. I think if we possessed the intellect to truly understand this gracious and all-consuming connection between the actual words of the past and the scary present, then we too would be Transcendental. All of these many years later, Thoreau continues to make his point, truly Transcendent.

Thoreau, Henry David, and Lewis Hyde. The Essays of Henry D. Thoreau. New York: North Point, 2002. Print.


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