Concord Rebel Analysis
Unlike many of the rather stuffy and sententious figures in early American history and literature, Thoreau is popular with young readers. There are several reasons for this popularity, one of which was his unconventional approach to the problem of making a living. The flexibility that modern society requires is the same quality that Thoreau always exemplified in his own career as a teacher, manufacturer, surveyor, scholar, philosopher, poet, and natural scientist. Young people who are faced with parental and social pressures to fit into careers that may not be compatible with their tastes and temperaments will welcome Thoreau’s advice and example. Another reason for Thoreau’s popularity with the young is his famous doctrine of passive resistance to evil. The use of nonviolence by such figures as Martin Luther King, Jr., in the Civil Rights movement and by Mahatma Gandhi in India demonstrated its effectiveness. A third, and probably the most important, reason for Thoreau’s popularity with the young is his love of nature. Thoreau admired Native Americans, who were displaced by European immigrants. Europeans wanted to exploit the new land by forcing it to give up its natural treasures; the native inhabitants believed that humanity should revere nature and seek to live in harmony with its laws.
Concord Rebel is attractive to young adults because Derleth wrote it like an ad-venture story. The story begins with Thoreau as a young man with a passionate love of nature and ends with an individual who had stayed young all of his life because of this love. Derleth captures the feeling of the eastern American continent when it was still relatively raw and it was possible to visit Native American tribes within a short distance from towns and cities. Young readers can identify with Thoreau’s quest to find his true vocation in life, which is the problem that they themselves will soon be facing. Thoreau is the only important writer in the United States or Europe who made the task of earning a living seem like one of life’s greatest adventures. Thoreau, by word and example, instills in young readers the confidence to face life’s challenges; his example shows that they cannot fail if they are true to themselves.
While they can identify with Thoreau as a person, young readers can also develop an appreciation of Thoreau as a writer, because Derleth has skillfully interwoven quotations from Thoreau’s works with a description of his life. The quotations that Derleth has selected will especially appeal to youthful readers looking for advice on how to conduct their own lives. For example, chapter 8 is prefaced with a quotation from Walden that begins: “If one listens to the faintest but constant suggestions of his genius, which are certainly true, he sees not to what extremes, or even insanity, it may lead him; and yet that way, as he grows more resolute and faithful, his road lies.”
Derleth, the author of many books for young people, aimed Concord Rebel specifically at a teenage audience. “Thoreau’s vision,” he states in his foreword, “is one which ought to make an irresistible appeal to the young. No mentally alive young man or woman can read Walden and come away from it willing to accept readily the common conventions of the world or the shabby goals set for the mass of men by their materialistic society.”