Wednesday, February 11, 2009
Thoreau's Wild West
In "Walking" it is clear that Thoreau idealizes the American West (capital W) as a source of redemption, a destination for the serious Walker who desires to discover nature (and to discover himself within nature). Thoreau discusses (I'm paraphrasing) how he feels compelled to take a Westward path, and will only tread East against his better nature. He is explicit in why, using reasoning that harkens back to Lowenthall, about the burdens of European past. Thoreau is inspirational, to be sure (a favorite of mine since high school) and his writings make me want to drop out of school and live in the woods (almost). But to what extent does Thoreau's ideals of nature rely on an unrealistic idealization of the great wide open wild West that Cronon talks about? Moreover, since Thoreau is probably the most commonly used introduction to Transcendentalism, etc used in middle and high school curricula across the country, can we trace his ideas directly into the popular perception of the "wild" that Cronon criticizes? Perhaps the better way to ask: what are the mechanisms (be it high school curricula, children's books, whatever) by which the wide open wild west ideology becomes lodged in each new generation?