Essay about Henry David Thoreau's Enlightenment and Ideas

1355 Words6 Pages
"Civil Disobedience" is one of Henry David Thoreau's most famous essays. One of the major problems most critics see with this essay deals with Thoreau's seemingly contradictory statements about society from the beginning to the end. Barry Wood, a well-known critical writer, attributes this change in beliefs to the enlightenment of Thoreau in jail. While I agree with Wood that Thoreau does achieve a form of enlightenment, I will show that Thoreau's views regarding the society he lived in never actually changed throughout the essay: the only aspect of the essay that changed was Thoreau's means of attacking his society. Thoreau uses his enlightened state to shift from an overt, blatant form of attack to a more subtle, psychological one.…show more content…
It is the quality of using one's mind that Thoreau designates as key to being human; therefore, the "mass of men" Thoreau describes earlier in the essay are sub-human because they lack this quality. Thoreau does not hint around his opinions in this first section, he makes sure the reader knows his views on society. However, at the end of the essay Thoreau's opinions become disguised. In order to understand why this occurs, we must explain briefly about the narrative and its significance in terms of Thoreau's views on society. The narrative section of Thoreau's essay gives perhaps the most insight into his life and the reasons for his changing ideas. Barry Wood describes the narrative as a key portion of the essay that brings about the "awakening of vision, and spiritual renewal" of Thoreau as he leaves the prison (Wood 421). As he is locked into a small cell, Thoreau reflects that he still "did not once feel confined" within the walls of "stone and mortar" that made up the jail he was forced to inhabit. He even goes so far as to say he believes the societal "wall" his townsmen would have to climb to be free is "still a more difficult to one to climb or break through, before they could get to be as free" as Thoreau
Get Access