In American society, our lives, consisted of professional and familial obligations, bind us to our constitutions and prevent us from drastically altering the construction of our beliefs. Consequently, the intellectual, the individual who embodies knowledge from pure reason, appears unconcerned with personal crises. This appearance in Henry David Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government” and Walden fosters a negative stereotype regarding intellectualism, contributing to America’s schismatic cultural identity.
In “Thoreau on Poverty and Magnanimity,” Thomas Woodson analyzes the perspective of letters exchanged between Ralph Waldo Emerson and Thoreau. Emerson describes the poor working conditions of Concord, Massachusetts rail workers, with focus on the Irish immigrant population. Despite Emerson’s critical view of their employment, Thoreau indifferently responds to the maltreatment of his newly arrived countrymen. Instead, Thoreau expresses a longing to return to Concord.
Thoreau’s ability to romanticize his homeland demonstrates an intellectual idealism that has no appreciation for the layman’s concerns, the pursuits of the nonintellectual. Woodson asserts that recognizing the distinction of unrealistic idealism in Thoreau’s writing reveals the author’s “special perspective” towards theory and practice, an interpretation that reinforces America’s schismatic cultural identity. Moreover, in “Paleface Thoreau,” Donald E. Houghton places American writers into one of two categories: redskins or palefaces. Applied to academia, Thoreau’s writing and person contribute to intellectualism’s negative stereotype. Applied to the American identity, they signify a schismatic composition. The contradictions contained therein represent an innumerable list of fundamentally clashing ideologies, all of which are vital in forming the mosaic called America’s cultural identity.
Leisner, Keith D.
"Thoreau's Negative Contribution to Intellectualism and Its Significance to America's Cultural Identity,"
Rollins Undergraduate Research Journal: Vol. 5
, Article 8.
Available at: https://scholarship.rollins.edu/rurj/vol5/iss1/8