Study Help Essay Questions


1. Compare and contrast the views on nature expressed in Emerson's Nature and in Thoreau's "Walking."

2. Examine the attitudes toward reform expressed in Emerson's "Divinity School Address" and "Experience" and in Thoreau's Civil Disobedience.

3. Discuss the significance of perception and perspective as developed in the writings of Emerson and Thoreau.

4. Compare and contrast Emerson's and Thoreau's attitudes toward society as expressed in their lives and writings.

5. Examine and discuss Thoreau's views on technological progress as expressed in Walden. Refer specifically to his presentation of the railroad.

6. Discuss, with specific reference to Emerson's writings, the following Transcendental concepts: the Oversoul; correspondence; intuition ("reason" as opposed to "understanding"); perfectibility; and self-reliance.

7. Discuss the circle imagery in Emerson's Nature.

8. Transcendentalist Elizabeth Palmer Peabody wrote in her 1858 piece "Egotheism, the Atheism of To-Day" (reprinted in 1886 in her Last Evening with Allston):

. . . when faith stagnates in the mere affirmation of the spiritual, men deify their own conceptions; i.e., they say that their conception of God is all that men can ever know of God. In short, faith commits suicide . . . at the summit of the moral life, and the next step to this is necessarily EGOTHEISM, which denies other self-consciousness to God than our own subjective consciousness; — not recognizing that there is, beyond our conception, inconceivable Power, Wisdom, and Love, — of the immanence of whose substantial being within us our best conception is but a transient form. Thus Egotheism, in the last analysis, is Atheism; and we find this "latest form of infidelity," as the understanding has rather blindly denominated it, — though not without a degree of religious instinct, — in the science, philosophy, and politics of the age, — at once glorifying it and saddening its poetry; — for man proves but a melancholy God."

Is Miss Peabody's criticism applicable to ideas expressed in Emerson's Nature and "Divinity School Address"?

9. Discuss the image of the river in Thoreau's A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers.

10. Discuss Thoreau's presentation of the Hannah Dustan story in the chapter "Thursday" in A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and the story's connection to the major themes of the book.

11. Choose a symbol from Thoreau's Walden (the rooster, loon, chimney, pond, sand foliage, for example), and explain its development and significance.

12. Comment on the battle of the ants in "Brute Neighbors" in Thoreau's Walden. What does Thoreau say in it of the relationship between man and nature?

13. Comment on the dialogue between "Hermit" and "Poet" at the beginning of "Brute Neighbors" in Walden. How does it relate to themes explored in the book as a whole?

14. Discuss Thoreau's thoughts on poetry and writing.