Henry David Thoreau is an American transcendentalist, social reformer, poet and philosopher. He was one of America’s most important environmentalists. His best description of himself and his works is his saying “My profession is always to be on the alert to find God in Nature, to know his lurking-places, to attend all the oratorios, the operas, of nature.” He has a passion for exploring deeper meaning in nature. He wrote in his journal “what we call wildness is a civilization other than our own … in wildness is the preservation of the world.” He did not get much attention during his lifetime, but today he is praised as the most powerful voice of the natural environment.
Thoreau’s book Walden is about his experiment in basic living in nature. He stayed for two years and two months at Walden Pond (1845-47) outside Concord Massachusetts writing his book before returning to society. It was published in 1854. It consists of eighteenth chapters celebrating solitude, simplicity, and living close to nature. He began and ended his journey in spring. He states his beliefs about society and environment, saying that to simplify their lives; people need to not work as hard as they do and follow their instincts. He wants to have a life of “voluntary poverty” for himself, that have only the basic needs: food, shelter, clothing, and fuel. He criticizes society for its emptiness spirituality and people obsession with clothing, travel, fancy houses, and the use of animal labor. He builds his own small cabin, earns some money by working in his bean field. He celebrates becoming a part of nature when he chooses where to live. His purpose was of going to the woods is as he states, “to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived” taking nature as his model. He thinks that a man must be a seer and listener and always alert to nature. After being transformed by his experience there, Thoreau concludes that with spiritual awareness and reference for nature, new life can rise out of an individual.
The suitable theory that would clarify the symbolic meaning of nature/environment in Walden is ecocriticism. Ecocriticism is “the study of the relationship between literature and environment” (Glotfelty xviii) from an interdisciplinary point of view. It has other names such as green (cultural) studies, ecopoetic and environmental literary criticism. Ecocritics endeavor to explore the hidden environmental qualities and concern. They are concerned about finding the significance of the word ‘nature’ and whether the examination of “place” should be a separate category like class or race.
William Rueckert was the first to coin the term ‘ecocriticism’ in his essay “Literature and Ecology: An Experiment in Ecocriticism” which he published in 1987. He aimed to stress on “the application of ecology and ecological concepts to the study of literature.” Later, it was studied by other works such as Raymond William’s The Country and the City (1973) and Joseph Meeker’s The Comedy of Survival (1974).
Raymond William contributed a great deal in this field by composing his book Country and the City (1973). It is considered as a brilliant work mirroring many years of doubt and ideological avoidances of this genre. He proceeded to maintain unambiguous green socialism.
Joseph Meeker’s is an author who is considered as another antecedent of ecocritical writing. He composed an ecocritical text, The Comedy of Survival (1974), which is likewise a new content in this field. In his book, he argues that the reason behind an environmental crisis is the cultural tradition in the west of the separation of culture from nature.
So, there are many authors who have contributed in this field and Henry David Thoreau is one such author who has demonstrated his concern for nature as a physical environment in his text Walden.
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