Monday, September 13, 2010

Thoreau, A Week, Day #4 (Thursday & Friday)

Please respond to any, but not all of the questions:

--This book is dedicated to and, in many ways, about Thoreau's dead brother John, but he is never named. How, finally, do you see this book as being "about" John and/or his death?

--What purpose does Thoreau's narration of the story of Hannah Dunston--the Puritan woman who escapes (and scalps) her Native captors--serve in his narrative?

--In "Friday," Thoreau wakes up to find himself in autumn. In this way, the trip isn't merely about a "week" (a decidedly arbitrary human unit of time), but also about the seasons, a more natural unit of time. What is he saying about the time-- human and/or natural-- here?


  1. I think Thoreau's narration of the story of Hannah Dunston serves to show his feelings that events that are considered either "history" or "myth" aren't necessarily classified by the date on which the occurred. he tells her story, of how she escaped and killed and scalped her captors, and then says, "This seems a long while ago, and yet it happened since Milton wrote his Paradise Lost." He goes on to write, "its antiquity is not the less great for that." I think his interest in history, writing, poetry, etc transcend time and dates, and he uses this particular example because it is so fascinating it seems to him like something that would have happened ages ago, and yet it was a fairly recent happening. He believes universal history can range from when the world began, to the present day.

  2. In "Friday" Thoreau gives his audience this long explanation as to how man's perception of time and nature's method of time, coexist. Thoreau cleary depicts man's dedication and submission to nature's might. He gives the reader examples of how certain deeds and certain things are carried out as far as our humanly concerns are concerned. Man has his calender and decides when the cold season starts and ends and when the rains come and when the heat and exhaustion of summer begins and ends. Man thinks that he has this great understanding of time however nature is never consistent with what man believes to be true of time and man needs to realize that everything he does is constituted by the changing of the seasons. Something he has no control over.

  3. 1. I think this book is a really heartfelt and elegaic reflection on an important time in Thoreau's life and an important, revelatory experience that he shared with his brother, so obviously his brother's death has a constant presence in every observation and reflected memory that Thoreau writes. I feel like, ultimately, the way that this book is "about" John's death is in the way it looks at life and human existence within nature. John's death probably caused Thoreau to evaluate a lot of things about the relative shortness and transience of human life and the role of humanity within nature. I think John's death also greatly influences Thoreau to try and take an objective, almost anthropological approach to the behaviors and customs of man, always keeping them in the context and perspective of the grandeur of nature, because in a way, if he looks at life as a transient experience within the huge timeline of nature, then his brother John's death is no more important an event than his life, and the great experiences of life that he and John shared together can be appreciated as great, unique moments within the ebb and flow of nature. I think Thoreau countered the subjective human pain his brother's death caused him by focusing on the objective natural beauty and the truth that lies therein that he observed on his travels, and that's the most lasting impression his brother's death has on the book.

  4. The story of Hannah Dunston reflects Thoreau's notion of history, in that time or what is written in history books doesn't determine historical significance, but what the common people did or said that isn't necessarily recorded is just as significant. He tells the story as a result of the coincidence that they are in the same area that presumably Hannah was in many years before. This illustrates the finiteness and immortality of nature. Humans live and die, while nature remains relatively unchanged. That area along the river outlived, in a manner of speaking, Hannah, and will outlive Thoreau after he leaves the area, as well.

  5. I argued in class that the book is a poor dedication to his brother because of the lack of his brother as a character. If it was dedicated to his memory, either have him be part of the story (as he surely was on the actual trip) or leave him out and dedicate the story to his memory. Thoreau somehow found a middle ground when it came to his brother.

    As for Friday, wasn't that a perfect circumstance? I think this is Thoreau's way of saying that time is man-made, and that we should be bigger picture when it comes to living. That means judging by the sun and the seasons, not by the speed of the city and the pocket watches of the suits.

  6. I can certainly relate to thoreau's feeling of awkening and knowing that fall has arrived. Every year it never ceases to amaze me that by just walking outside one morning and feeling the cool dry air, I know its fall. It is not a reaction that i think about, I just inherently know that my favorite time of year has arrived. I think this is a way of Thoreau linking us humans back to nature. More and more people seem to separate themselves from nature. We work on schedules and in our free time we often find some kind of technology to take up our day. But i think the feeling I described earlier is pretty universal for people because its natural. Its not a schedule telling us that its fall, nature tells us.

  7. Thoreau is a very difficult writer to understand. I suppose that some of the blame can be put on the fact that this is, in a way, a dedication to his brother. However, I found it to be a very hard reed and one that had me very easily distracted by other things while reading.

    I'll begin with his brother. This trip was, from what I could understand, was representative of the last real bonding time that Thoreau had with his brother. I definitely see this book as being more about other things than his brother for the most part but i think that perhaps, it was intend that way. What I mean is that perhaps Thoreau was writing this book strictly about his experiences on the trip but kept going back to his brother because of the fact that, even after seven years, he was still in mourning. He needed closure and I think that by writing this book he was getting that.

    When Friday comes around I can kind of see this book being tied up in a sense. He wakes up and finds that a new season has arrived. Now does autumn just come over night? No, I don't believe so. Thoreau is just beginning to see the change in the season. I believe that the way that he ends the book with this new season is more than just about the trip he was on with his brother. I think that he is entering a new season in his life as well. Just as autumn brings beauty, peace, hope, and promise; I believe that he is experiencing all of those things through the ending of this book. If I put myself in the position of the writer, I am forced to believe that writing this is in someway therapeutic. What I am trying to say is that I believe that Thoreau is moving into a season where he can finally start to get some closure with his brother's passing.

  8. In a way, I think this story made a ton of sense, as far as being a memorial to Thoreau's brother. Well, I should say it made sense if you qualify it the way I did. See, I struggled quite a bit to understand this book's digressions. "Where did this come from?" "How did you start thinking about *that* after seeing *that*?"

    And other thoughts of the sort.

    What it came down to, for me, was the idea that these were all things he talked about with his brother. His digressions were things he and his brother had meditated on together while on the trip. Maybe not everything was discussed on that trip, when they were passing those things, but they were discussed. By working those on, on paper, in the book, it seems like Thoreau was memorializing their conversations, although that's not explicitly (and maybe not even implicitly) conveyed. It's like he wanted their thoughts, their moments, enshrined forever.

    Maybe that's not the case, but with Thoreau, do you ever really know?

  9. --This book is dedicated to and, in many ways, about Thoreau's dead brother John, but he is never named. How, finally, do you see this book as being "about" John and/or his death?

    "A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers" could be a seen as a rememberance of John through Thoreau's experiences with John during their travels. The vivid descriptions of people and surroundings Thoreau had encountered are so descriptive, it would be impossible for Thoreau not to vividly recall his interactions with his brother in those moments. The odd format of Thoreau's observations, political views, and belief set would set more place if they were excerpts of what he and his brother discussed. By creating this writing in rememberance of John, yet not mentioning John clearly in the novel, it makes John everywhere and no where. It's an entire piece dedicated to John, yet John is not explictly anywhere in the piece. I think this shows Thoreau's perspective of John's death because John is with him all the time, but of course he is dead so he is not phsyically with Thoreau. I also think that Thoreau had such personal relationships with the people in his life that perhaps he wanted the novel to be more of a memory jogger for himself, and not necessiarily for the rest of the world.


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