Henry David Thoreau: The Environmentalist Saint

Professor Hadley Mozer.

LC21 Envi Lit A F

January 30, 2017

Henry David Thoreau: Saint of the Earth

        Thoreau’s name was once different than how it is popularly known today. His name at birth was David Henry, and for some unspecified reason Thoreau changed his name after college to how we know it in the present. However, he never officially got his name changed, so how we say it today is actually wrong. Although the population is living a lie, this name has inspired change throughout the world, so much so that the essay he wrote titled Civil Disobedience influenced Mohandas K. Gandhi and Martin Luther King to help them spread their individual messages. If Henry David Thoreau wasn’t the environmentalist saint that we now know him to be we, as a population, would be in a severely different situation than what we face now. He taught us how to profoundly understand our place in the environment, especially how we can use it so that we can lead more spiritual lives, instead of how we can use it for our own gain. He truly deserves the title environmentalist saint, evident by his works being so clear and concise that the reader can empathize with his words and feel closer to nature. This joining of reader and writer is shown specifically in his Journals, Walden, and “Huckleberries”, especially through diction, and the modes of persuasion..

        Thoreau’s journals are the raw and unfiltered mini-truths that berate his mind throughout the day. He only began to keep a journal because his mentor and friend Ralph Waldo Emerson advised him to write down his day-to-day thoughts. For the most part his journals weren’t even published until after his death in 1906, and they actually built his reputation. He actually filled forty-seven manuscript volumes with his writings, and he wrote until the day he died, covering every subject a man could think of in his life. He wrote about reincarnation, new technology, old natives, weather, humans, etc. he shows his sainthood through these journals because of the keen observations we see in each entry. The conclusions he comes to are all fundamental truths that he has noticed throughout his time on earth, even though he was celebrated for so few of them. He shows the reader a deeper understanding of the earth and a time before the industrial revolution, a time of native Americans and picture perfect landscapes, through his word choice alone Thoreau captures the essence of these ages so precisely the reader cannot help but imagine being there. Lastly, he appeals to logos, pathos, and ethos through the language that he uses, logos by telling the reader that a man should live simply, pathos by connecting the reader to “how it used to be” through nostalgia, and ethos by giving us a solution that helps us live better lives. His journals prove he is a saint through his love of just living plainly and being connected to the earth..

        Walden; or Life in the Woods is all about one single concept that drives the whole reason Thoreau is living in the woods in the first place, the concept is to live life with only the absolute necessities. This entails only having whatever is crucial to your survival at any given moment, like the fact that Thoreau’s house only had a bed, desk, and lamp to survive. This promotes and celebrates his sainthood because he was living a simple unencumbered life, as Thoreau would put it; “simplify, simplify, simplify.” This life led him to be closer to the forest and its rich history, filled with Indians and lumberjacks, alive over the course of centuries. When Thoreau gives us his table on how much he spent on everything that he needed to build his house he was appealing to logos and how we need to keep ourselves organized throughout our life. Next, the lumberjack came by and chopped down a century old tree, appealing to our emotions, it made the reader depressed to see something so old and mighty fall. Lastly, appealing to ethics to show how we should cut down the small ones so that we don’t contribute to our population’s destruction as much as we could. These important details from this story show the reader that Thoreau is trying his hardest to be an eco-centric kind of man, but, when it is all said and done, we are only human. That is why it seems that occasionally Thoreau contradicts himself and does something androcentric, this fact makes the reader appreciate his lifestyle even more because we further understand his struggle.