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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

12. Migrant

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Activities: Author Activities

Henry David Thoreau - Author Questions

Back Back to Henry David Thoreau Activities
  1. Comprehension: Why does Thoreau see the idea of "owned" property as immoral?

  2. Comprehension: Take a look at the two introductions to Walden ("Economy" and "Where I Lived, and What I Lived For"). How does each of these chapters introduce what is to follow? What kind of readers does each ask us to be? Why wasn't "Economy" enough of an introduction? What does "Where I Lived . . ." add to our understanding of how to read Walden?

  3. Context: Machine tools, steam engines, steamboats, railroads, textile machinery for factories, and the telegraph were all being developed and used more widely during Thoreau's lifetime. Thoreau's family owned a pencil factory, in which he worked from time to time. What changes in American society and culture were brought on by the Industrial Revolution? What were Thoreau's specific objections to those changes?

  4. Exploration: Thoreau makes clear in his works how dependent industrialization is on cheap labor. He points to the role of slavery in developing the South's agricultural production and the abuse of Chinese and Irish immigrants in building the railroads as two examples. In "Life without Principle," he writes, "The ways by which you may get money almost without exception lead downward." Was Thoreau right in believing that for one person to succeed economically, he or she has to exploit others? Does that seem to be illustrated by the works discussed in this unit? What about bankers? Lawyers? Mechanics? Plumbers? Professors? Can you think of cases where one person's economic success does not depend upon the exploitation of others?

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