Awakenings in Literature | Teen Ink

Awakenings in Literature

September 17, 2018
By Barry GOLD, Ashburnham, Massachusetts
Barry GOLD, Ashburnham, Massachusetts
14 articles 23 photos 3 comments

Favorite Quote:
“To be awake is to be alive”

Henry David Thoreau, as a leading thinker of transcendentalism, made an enormous contribution to the idea of awakenings in literature. Instead of a physical way of living, Thoreau advocated a focus on spirits; as he says, “To be awake is to be alive” (Thoreau 6). He urged his contemporaries and future generations to take a path of social reform and self-reflection as the means to interpret nature, including human nature. He pioneered a way of breaking from society, following individual beliefs, and getting closer to nature. In his literary works, he explains his definition of being awake, living deliberately, and the ceaseless developmental nature of being human.

Being awake is not solely a description of the physical condition of human beings, but also a state of spiritual enlightened in literary works. Thoreau questions the idea of “living”: “The millions are awake enough for physical labor; but only one in a million is awake enough for effective intellectual exertion, only one in a hundred millions to a poetic or divine life” (Thoreau 6). He argues that people have been consumed by work. In this case, humans are no longer humans, but instead have become beasts. He doubts whether humans are only meant to eat, defecate, and consume products. If this idea is essentially true, then humans do not have their natural characteristics, or ethos. Thoreau uses John Farmer, an Irish immigrant who has a poor family and works hard to make a living, as an example. He tries to persuade the family to take his path and realize the significance of spiritual existence. With the belief that “moral reform is the effort to throw off sleep,” Thoreau starts his journey to reform in his literature, as an attempt to wake up others (Thoreau 6). Thoreau also makes the critical point that one should be awake in order to awake others. And it is acceptable not to be awake for some time because humans are not divine.

Thoreau also raises the idea of living deliberately. According to Thoreau, most people at that time were not living deliberately. They conformed to social norms easily and considered money to be a source of happiness, as people do nowadays. The worship of materialism hinders their humanity. In addition, people who do not live deliberately follow what others do, because they are unable to discover their own ideas. On the contrary, Thoreau argues, “The only obligation which I have a right to assume is to do at any time what I think right” (Thoreau 15). Therefore, people can design their own lives: “Every man is tasked to make his life, even in its details” (Thoreau 7). Thoreau encourages individuality because he does not want to be restricted by such traditions. He wishes to lead a Spartan life, and he thinks people should step into nature to comprehensively understand the meaning of living.

Ceaselessly developmental nature is another important issue for Thoreau. He comments on Concordian that they can be American, but they currently are not. He contends that people should exert creativity and take action because creative power makes them human. He also says that it is not technology that is the root of evil but the way people use it. For example, pencils can be used to create art, and therefore help people release and express themselves. Later, he connects his point on ceaseless development to being awake: “If they had not been overcome with drowsiness, they would have performed something” (Thoreau 6). A person needs to be awake and fully realize their spirits. In this way, any individual is able to exhibit something meaningful and fulfill their life. Moreover, a right system is also significant: “Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is also a prison” (Thoreau 7). An unjust system will impose restrictions on people’s creativity.

Thoreau was an enlightened man who embraced advanced thinking about the existence and form of human beings. His ideas on being awake, living deliberately, and ceaseless development were ahead of their time and deserve the recognition they’ve received.

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