What are some of the literary allusions found in Walden? Explain. 

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In Walden, Thoreau alludes to classical sources, the Bible, and great English authors. It would be as common among the educated audiences that Thoreau was addressing to know Greek literature, the Bible, and Shakespeare as it is today to understand such as allusions as "we're not in Kansas anymore."

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In Walden, Thoreau alludes to classical sources, the Bible, and great English authors. It would be as common among the educated audiences that Thoreau was addressing to know Greek literature, the Bible, and Shakespeare as it is today to understand such as allusions as "we're not in Kansas anymore."

An example of Biblical allusion in Walden is "it would be like keeping new wine in old bottles." This is a slightly altered reference to Jesus's statement in three of the Gospels that it ruins both the wine and wineskin to try to reuse an old wineskin. This is a metaphor in which Jesus tries to explain why he has abandoned old rituals, such as fasting. In Thoreau's case, he is saying people should literally wear their old clothes until they feel so inwardly changed that it would seem strange to keep the old clothes on. Like Jesus, he means that transformation should be inward, not a matter of outward ritual.

An example of an allusion to Shakespeare is "the winter of man's discontent." This is a reference to the opening lines of Richard III, which read:

Now is the winter of our discontent
made glorious summer by this sun of York

As can be seen, Thoreau alters this quote slightly. He doesn't supply the second half of it, as he can assume his audience will know it. Thoreau is, on one level, tongue-in-cheek in his use of this reference. Shakespeare is writing metaphorically, saying a new and better day has come with the reign of Edward IV. Thoreau, however, is literalizing the allusion, using it in the context of the winter snow melting and spring coming, which means he can begin his sojourn at Walden Pond. However, he is also speaking in metaphor, saying his own discontent is melting like the snow as spring rouses him to new action. A better day is coming for him, too, as he embraces a life of simplicity.

However, as Richard III ends tragically, one of the undertones of the allusion is that venture could also end tragically: Thoreau doesn't quite know what he is getting himself into. This allusion might keep his audience curious.

Finally, an example of an allusion to Greek mythology comes when Thoreau likens his new, tiny home by Walden Pond to a place fit for the gods, saying:

This was an airy and unplastered cabin, fit to entertain a travelling god, and where a goddess might trail her garments.

In this way, he is exalting simplicity to a heavenly status.

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In Chapter 1, titled "Economy," Thoreau writes,

The twelve labors of Hercules were trifling in comparison with those which my neighbors have undertaken; for they were only twelve, and had an end; but I could never see that these men slew or captures any monster or finished any labor.

By this, he refers to people who have the "misfortune" to inherit property, animals, and tools. They become completely enslaved to maintaining these responsibilities that they have been saddled with. They labor on and on to keep this land and maintain their property; they scarcely have time to do anything else. They are "well-nigh crushed" under their responsibilities, so much so that Thoreau argues that it would have been better for them to have been raised by wolves. We can all agree that Hercules's labors were terrific feats, but Thoreau argues that the plight of a man of property is actually a great deal more labor. It is a kind of labor that never ends—until he eventually dies and passes it on to some other poor young person who will undergo the same fate.

In Chapter 2, "Where I Lived and What I Lived For," Thoreau writes,

Every morning was a cheerful invitation to make my life of equal simplicity, and I may say innocence, with Nature herself. I have been as sincere a worshipper of Aurora as the Greeks.

Here, he alludes to Aurora, the ancient Greek goddess of the dawn, in discussing the practices and habits he kept while living at Walden Pond.

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Thoreau's style in Walden, his account of a simple life isolated from the world of men, is highly allusive, which actually establishes a contrast with the subject itself--a simple life in which nature is the primary subject.  As were other Transcendentalist writers, Thoreau was well educated and steeped in the classics of Greek and Roman literature, as well as 18thC. British literature,  from which he drew many of his allusions.

One of Thoreau's cleverest allusions is in the opening section of Chapter 2, "Where I lived, and What I lived for" as he observes the landscape of the property he has acquired from Mr. Hollowell:

'I am monarch of all I survey
 My right there is none to dispute.'

Here, he quotes from William Cowper's (1731-1800) poem "Verses Supposed To Be Written By Alexander Selkirk, During His Solitary Abode In The Island Of Juan Fernandez" (also published as "The Solitude of Alexander Selkirk") (1782).  In an undoubtedly tongue-in-cheek tone, Thoreau alludes here to the story which inpired Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe, the classic account of a  life of isolation, and also plays upon the fact that Thoreau is a highly-accomplished land surveyor.  At this point, readers must be on notice that this account of simple life is anything but simple.

In Chapter 2, paragraph 4, Thoreau uses Greek and Roman mythology to illustrate his absolute desire to live in unmolested nature;

To enjoy these advantages I was ready to carry it on; like Atlas, to take the world on my shoulders. . . .

Referring to Greek and Roman mythology, Thoreau likens himself to Atlas, one of the original Titans, whose job it is to hold up the world in perpetuity. Thoreau's allusions, always appropriate to the overall point he his making and artfully integrated into the text, are also an expected component of works from members of the Transcendentalist movement in the 19thC.  

Allusions to mythological beings and Greek and Roman classical literature abound in Walden, not only to add the expected learned texture to the work but, more important,  also to illuminate Thoreau's experience of isolation and the pre-eminence of nature within that experience.

 

 

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Thoreau's allusions are numerous, and many of them are rooted in ancient history and Greek mythology. In "Where I lived, and What I Lived For," he writes, "Olympus is but the outside of the earth everywhere." The allusion is to Mt. Olympus, the home of the gods in Greek mythology. In the same chapter, he says he wants to live "sturdily and Spartanlike." Here the allusion is to the ancient Greek state of Sparta whose people were known for denying themselves comfort and luxuries. Again in the same chapter, Thoreau writes "like pygmies we fight with cranes." This passage alludes directly to a story about pygmies in Homer's Iliad.

Later in Walden, Thoreau alludes to the Golden Age of Greece, a mythological time of perfect peace and happiness; he also alludes to "the wealth of Croesus,"  a king in ancient times noted for his great fortune.

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