Unexpected Critiques In Walden Essay

1049 words - 4 pages

Unexpected Critiques in Walden

In Walden, Henry David Thoreau utilizes many different styles and themes to explain his ideas about shelter in further detail. Thoreau uses lists, long and short sentences, imagery, and different narrative voices. But out of all the things Thoreau uses to strengthen his argument, the most powerful is his unexpected comparisons and his sarcasm towards shelter. Thoreau uses these to get the reader interested, but more importantly it gets the reader to reconsider his/her contentment and think about how ridiculous society was then concerning shelter.

Early in "Economy", Thoreau writes about shelter in regards to how humans first came to use and later need shelter. The passage starts off by explaining how some person a long time ago decided to dwell in a cave for shelter. Through Thoreau's word usage and imagery, his idea that humans do not need shelter is clear. He starts this argument with the topic of child rearing. He states that since a child "loves to stay out doors, even in wet and cold," the instinct to have shelter is not biological (Thoreau 28). It must be something that is taught to children, most likely from observation. At the same time no one, even Thoreau, knows where and how this instinct originated. He just knows that "in the infancy of the human race, some enterprising mortal crept into a hollow in a rock for shelter" (28). In using words and phrases like "primitive," "the infancy of the human race," and "most primitive ancestor" the reader understands how important shelter has become to the human race because it is so deeply rooted in human's minds (28).

From here Thoreau dives into a long list of how humans have developed their shelter over time, from "roofs of palm leaves, of bark and boughs, of linen woven and stretched, of grass and straw, of boards and shingles, of stones and tiles" (28). This list changes the pace from the first couple of sentences about child rearing from eloquent, long sentences to a quick, easy-to-digest list. This progression of images shows how humans have advanced over time. But at the end of this list, Thoreau throws in a quick but simple sentence to change the rhythm, which changes the whole meaning of the list. Thoreau uses this quick sentence to make a very unexpected critique. He asserts that as humans "we know not what it is to live in the open air, and our lives are domestic in more senses than we think" (28). Here he pokes fun at society's inability to live without shelter. Thoreau includes himself by using "we" and "our lives" in this generalization to keep the reader from putting the book down

After this change in pace Thoreau's sarcasm is more visible to the reader for he blatantly points out the basic need for shelter. He explains that "from the hearth to the field is a great distance," even though that distance in reality is quite short (28). By saying this distance is far, Thoreau suggests that humans are so used to being indoors and under a...

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