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

Walden, Economic Injustice, and the Commercialization of American Society

The Ponds is my favorite Walden chapter because Thoreau is writing from his heart. He isn’t trying to impress anyone with his extensive vocabulary, his high GRE score, or his third-person-passive-voice-boring-sentence structure. He isn’t some disengaged Ivy League scholar speaking from the pages of a journal article, a journal article that nobody really cares about. He sounds a bit like me, totally sick of social injustice. The following is one of my favorites: 

“Some skin-flint, who loved better the reflecting surface of a dollar, or a bright cent, in which he could see his own brazen face: who regarded even the wild ducks which settled in it as trespassers; his fingers grown into crooked and horny talons from the long habit of grasping harpy-like; --so it is not named for me. I go not there to see him not to hear of him; who never saw it, who never bathed in it, who never loved it, who never protected it, who never spoke a good word for it, nor thanked God that he had made it” (189). 

I enjoy analyzing literature from a Marxist perspective. This piece embodies everything I despise about human nature, greed in particular. It encompasses a wide range of unethical behaviors, the type of behaviors that I am privy to, those happening behind the scenes, those pathetic political maneuvers. This little excerpt is heavily contemptuous of arrogance, and while I read it, I am cheering Thoreau on. 

Put my personal, Marxist, and petty political concerns aside, and expand this paragraph into a community scandal, such as the naming of an 18million dollar high school football field. Of course, just like the prostitutes they are, a commercial entity will pay to put their signage on the field. Us parents were asked whether or not we thought the naming rights should be sold, but, of course, that decision had already been made long before the survey hit the inbox. I can remember a time when nothing was named after a corporation, simply nothing. We didn’t have a Minute Maid Park, or an NRG Stadium, and somehow places were named in some meaningful way.

We are reminded of the destructive and deformative nature of greed when Thoreau writes “his fingers grown into crooked and horny talons from the long habit of grasping harpy-like” suddenly produces an uncomfortable, but familiar, mental image. His depiction emphasizes the unattractive nature of greed, while punctuating the importance of how something is named in conjunction with how the naming process affects the overall enjoyment of that space.

The naming of a public space should never be associated with some corporate entity—it reduces everything in its shadows to some cheap marketing strategy. I'm not against small business advertising at a game, or having the odd Coca Cola sign around. I am talking about the insidious way that corporations control us, and how Thoreau innocently raises this modern ethical question.

 Thoreau, Henry David, and Jeffrey S. Cramer. Walden. New Haven, CT: Yale UP, 2006. Print.



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