Blog Post #2: Thoreau and Meaning

In his book The Machine in the Garden: Technology and the Pastoral Ideal in America, the critic Leo Marx writes that in Walden Thoreau “is clear . . . about the location of meaning and value”: “He is saying that it does not reside in the natural facts or in social institutions or in anything ‘out there,’ but in consciousness. It is the product of imaginative perception, of the analogy-perceiving, metaphor-making, mythopoeic power of the human mind.” Do you agree with Marx’s conclusions about Walden? Where does Thoreau seem to find “meaning and value” in the chapters you’ve read from the book, and in particular in the chapter “Spring”?

 

Throughout all of the readings of Thoreau there seems to be a few points he liked for his writing to center around: self-reliance; nature; the importance of consciousness; and of course, where life’s meaning is truly found. Thoreau left everything he knew, though everything he knew was but a brief distance away, to go and live in a self-made cabin in the woods. He lived off of what he grew and he lived meagerly. In his book, Walden, we see his search to find the meaning of life as he contemplates all of life’s forgotten intricacies. He takes notice of the critters that litter the ground. He sees how the earth labors to reproduce itself. At one point he notes, “No wonder that the earth expresses itself outwardly in leaves, it so labors with the idea inwardly. The atoms have already learned this law, and are pregnant by it. The overhanging leaf sees here its prototype.” Thoreau took notice of life in a way unlike most people in his day, or our day for that matter. He knew that we, as man, had to work with nature in order to have a coexistent relationship with it. He did not seem to view man’s relationship with nature as one where man was the dominant force, but rather, one where man relied on nature to live, and thus should respect it utterly. He viewed man as but an alternate representation of nature. He said, “What is man but a mass of thawing clay? The ball of the human finger is but a drop congealed. The fingers and toes flow to their extent from the thawing mass of the body. Who knows what the human body would expand and flow out to under a more genial heaven? Is not the hand a spreading palm leaf with its lobes and veins?” This comparison describes man in a way similar to how he described nature, both with their leaves and veins that display life and root deeply into the earth. This deep root that man has in the earth, I believe, is why man seeks so much to find peace among nature. This is why there is a calm one feels when he goes off to be alone in nature. This is one of the things that has also been made of apparent importance to Thoreau who noted that some of his most memorable times of peace, were just taking quiet walks among creation. This is what he valued. His value was in perceiving nature in the right way and forgoing societally accepted conclusions of mans over importance among it.

Feel free to let me know what you think! :)

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