Dillard And Thoreau Comparison Essay, Research Paper
From the lone hiker on the Appalachian Trail to the environmental lobby groups in Washington D.C., nature evokes strong feelings in each and every one of us. We often struggle with and are ultimately shaped by our relationship with nature. The relationship we forge with nature reflects our fundamental beliefs about ourselves and the world around us. The works of timeless authors, including Henry David Thoreau and Annie Dillard, are centered around their relationship to nature.
The love for nature is one that is formed when young. Thoreau shows evidence of early development of a lifelong love for nature that he would carry with him in everything that he did. As a young boy of ten he was fond of walking deep into the woods that surrounded his home in Concord in search of solitude (Salt 18). Thoreau expressed an interest in living at Walden Pond at the age of ten (Salt 19). His love of nature can largely be credited to qualities inherited from his mother (Salt 22). It would rightfully be his love of nature that he would be remembered for.
Thoreau after graduating from Harvard College began to keep a journal that he filled with the many thoughts and observations that came to him on his daily walks about Concord (Richardson 7). These Journals would spawn into the many books that he wrote, the most prominent being Walden. Thoreau was a self-
taught naturalist, who spent much of his time systematically
studying the natural phenomena almost exclusively around Concord (Witherell and Dubrulle). His Journal contains these careful observations, such as the cycles of plants, of local water levels, and many other natural phenomena (Witherell and Dubrulle). These Journals help to impress the love that he held for nature. It is this feeling that has propelled him to be considered by many to be the leader of the environmental movement (Buell 171).
Thoreau himself cared little for group activities, religious or political, and even avoided organized reform movements (Gougeon 195). The abolitionist movement did however bring Thoreau out and into the public forum (Salt 140). As he became further involved with his Journal and his examination of nature he began to develop into an environmentalist and natural historian (Buell 172). This is evident by his views represented in Walden regarding the progress that was taking place in Concord at the time (Witherell and Dubrulle). Thoreau had witnessed the destruction of nearly all of Concords woodlands and actively placed blame on the woodchoppers (Buell 172).
Annie Dillard’s childhood is filled with memories of rock and bugs collecting and close looks at pond water through a
microscope (L. Smith 4). Her interest in wildlife continued when she discovered The Field Book of Ponds and Streams, which
she continued to reread year after year (L. Smith 5). Due in part to a drag racing accident she was sent to Hollins College where she would go on to graduate with a degree in English literature after writing a thesis titled “Walden Pond and Thoreau” (L. Smith 7). Thoreau would influence the way she viewed nature (Norton 1752).
After graduating she moved into a small house near Tinker Creek where after reading a “bad” nature book she decided that she could write a better one (L. Smith 8). Dillard’s view of nature is that of a zoologist and botanist (P. Smith). She is drawn in by nature and then compelled to observe it (P. Smith). The observations that she draws from nature are scientific in nature, she does not draw conclusions from what she sees (Chenetier). She is instead an active observer, not an activist (P. Smith).
Her observations receive applause from environmentalists, yet she portraits a policy of nonintervention (P. Smith). There is never a hint that she is moved to donate money, time or support to any ecologically minded things (P. Smith). She instead chooses to believe that these things happen and refrains from recommending that anyone do anything about what she sees
(L. Smith 91). To Dillard the law of nature is not survival of
the fittest, it is instead a matter of circumstantial survival
(P. Smith). Dillard believes that it is not just a matter of being the strongest, but being the strongest at the right time and place.
Dillard comes about her feelings for nature much in the same way that Thoreau comes about his. Both found their joy in nature at young ages and are captivated in observation of nature. Their early interest of nature helps to guide their progression through life. The way that they discovered nature influences the way that they interpret it later in life, Dillard viewed it objectively and Thoreau let it lead him. Both let their feelings for nature show in the activities of their youth.
Thoreau and Dillard actively participated in activities that placed them in contact with nature. Thoreau loved to walk and explore. He enjoyed the solidarity and peace that it afforded him. His love of nature is evident in his descriptions throughout Walden.
Once it chanced that I stood in the very abutment of a rainbow’s arch, which filed the lower stratum of the atmosphere, tinging the grass and leaves around, and dazzling me as if I looked through colored crystal. If it
had lasted longer it might have tinged my employments and life (Thoreau 135).
Dillard enjoyed hobbies that allowed her to investigate nature
around her. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek holds many instances that indicate Dillard’s attention to detail. This is evidenced in her description of a moth that has just come out of its cocoon.
It emerged at last, a sudden crumple. It was a male; his long antennae were thickly plumed, as wide as his fat abdomen. His body was very thick, over an inch long, and deeply furred. A gray, furlike plush covered his head; a long, tan furlike hair hung from his wide thorax over his brown-furred, segmented abdomen (Dillard 61).
The different approach that each takes to nature is shown in the way that they use their language to convey their motivation.
Although Thoreau and Dillard share fundamental similarities, they differ in the way they interpret what they see in nature and in what context they choose to represent it to their reader. Thoreau tends to make interpretations about life and the soul in what he observes in nature. His cry is to simplify, as nature is. Dillard in contrast tries to see nature from a more scientific viewpoint. She impresses the notion that nature, when looked at closely, is in fact not simple but rather
complex. With differing views come different messages for the reader.
Thoreau passes on an idea that nature is important to life and is something to be savored. As is evident with his tale of
the woodcutters in Concord, he does not like what is being done to the environment. He believes that people’s view of nature must change. Dillard sees that people are changing nature but does not make any conclusion as to its effect. She simply accepts it as the way it is. She, unlike Thoreau, provides us with descriptions of nature without interpretation, leaving that to the reader.
Thoreau and Dillard, while superficially similar prove to represent entirely different ideals in their writing. Thoreau was more apt to live the life that he preached. While Dillard by her own admission is an author and nothing more (Lander). This can explain to a large degree why they differ so largely in their disposition toward the natural world. They had different motives when they went about writing their books.
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