Rhetorical Analysis-“Reading” in Walden Walden is a personal essay of Henry David Thoreau, as he goes into wood and writes his personal experiences by immersing himself in nature. By detaching himself from the society, Thoreau tried to gain a more objective understanding of society through personal introspection. His thoughts of understanding society or finding the “truth” are discussed on the third chapter “Reading. ” This chapter constitutes a description of what Thoreau has gained from reading and an exhortation that the reader should seek for the vein of spiritual truth.
Thoreau discusses the benefits of classical literature then argues that people of Concord should focus on adult’s education. He moans that most of the educated men in Concord disregard the classics of English literature and argues that townspeople should have spent money on building Lyceum instead of a townhouse. By using dichotomies, Thoreau differentiates himself from the townspeople, and then he strengthens his argument by deifying the work of great poets.
Thoreau’s studying of classical literature or his attempt to find the truths is prevalent in chapter “Reading”, but his thoughts are especially well-presented in the first paragraph of the chapter. Thoreau begins his paragraph with personal thoughts saying if men were more deliberate in choosing their pursuits, they would all become “students” and observers,” because that it is in their “nature” and “destiny. ” By choosing scientific words, such as “observers”, “students”, and “nature” to describe his personal thoughts, Thoreau risks charges of elitism.
Science is a study of nature and it is based on observation and experiment, whereas philosophy and literature is a study based on personal thoughts and insights. This is contrast to what other most writers argue. Most other writers and philosophers argue that while it is possible to think we know the truth in a situation, it is impossible to be certain. Since we cannot be certain of the truth, it is very difficult or even impossible to define what the “truth” is.
However by stating that literature and philosophy can be answered in a definite way like science, Thoreau implicitly tells the readers that he is following the “right” track as other great poets have followed. This elitism is recurrent throughout in Walden, as he states the difference between great literature and the common reader later in this chapter. Thoreau contemplates that most people learn to read only for convenience and they are only satisfied with one great book, the Bible. He even ridicules the townspeople by comparing them to four years old children with a copy of Cinderella.
It is possible that Thoreau purposely used the techniques in a planned way. If Thoreau had bluntly blamed the educated man in Concord from the beginning, his readers, whom are mostly likely educated men from Concord or elsewhere, would have undoubtedly been offended. On the next sentence, Thoreau continues his assertion by introducing the theme of immortality through literature. Once again, he defies the work of great poets by stating that “we are mortal, … but in dealing with truth, we are immortal. ”(94, Thoreau) Thoreau implies that by writing or publishing great works, one can achieve immortality with his work.
To further understand Thoreau’s concept on mortality, one must understand his background first. Walden was written in1845, three years after his beloved brother John, an amateur ornithologist. Suffering from his brother’s loss, Thoreau went to woods and started his career as a writer by writing Walden. Faced with the death of his brother, Thoreau probably needed to find an answer for mortality and Walden is his attempt to immortalize himself through writing. Continuing from mortality, Thoreau uses another metaphor, divinity. Thoreau mentions about Egyptian and Hindu philosophers and their divinity.
It is interesting to see that Thoreau uses other religions, instead of using Christianity. It was written in mid-nineteenth century, and the traditional Christian beliefs were starting to crumble. Thoreau, coming from New England where Puritan religion is prevalent, would of course be familiar with Christianity and Bible. Other evidences in this paragraph also suggest that Thoreau was affected by this. As I mentioned on the last paragraph, Thoreau mentions about immortality and afterlife, which cannot be achieved in Christianity.
Another example is the use of word “veil” in this paragraph. Throeau states “still the trembling robe remains raised, and I gaze upon as fresh a glory as he did. ”(94, Thoreau) When people first think of Veil in religion, most people would think of Muslim women wearing hijabs, but considering that this was written in mid-nineteenth century, Thoreau probably was not considering Muslim. In fact, covering the hair is also religious commandment for Christian Women and it was meant to shield women’s hair from eyes of sinful men.
Human beings can only perceive the divine through their senses in Christianity belief, while Thoreau, as a transcendentalist, suggests a more spiritual way to connect with divine by reading great literature. Thoreau then concludes this paragraph with a resemblance statement of great literature’s immortality. He says “That time which we really improve, or which is improvable, is neither past, present, nor future. ”(94,Thoreau) Again he mentions immortality of the great literature and he is stating that these works are the “truth. Thoreau does not contemplate townspeople in this paragraph as much as the rest of chapter. Instead he focuses praising the great poets and even defies their work. This is part of his effort to convince readers his argument before he can criticize other townspeople. By doing this, he wishes for townspeople to become more educated. He wishes that Concord spend money on arts and education as patrons in European nobles, but only finds that townspeople are spending money on farming and trade. By using dichotomy between townspeople and the great poets, he successfully distinguishes himself from townspeople.
Then by using metaphors and comparison with Christianity, Thoreau asserts his opinion on education and tells his thoughts on finding the “truth. ” By boldly putting himself to the same position as the other great poets, Thoreau successfully shows his strong will on reforming education. Yet, he risks his essay for elitism by simply stating that townspeople don’t care much about the literature and thus must be not interested in finding the truth. ? Work cited. 1. Henry David Thoreau, Walden. New York: The Modern Library, 1992. Print. 2. Walden Pond state Reservation