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Toolbox Library, primary resources thematically organized with notes and discussion questionsOnline Seminars, professional development seminars for history and literature teachersThe Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing, 1815-1850
The Triumph of Nationalism/The House Dividing
Topic: Culture of the Common ManTopic: Cult of DomesticityTopic: ReligionTopic: ExpansionTopic: America in 1850
Topic: Expansion
Overview of Triumph of Nationalism
Resource Menu: Expansion
Text 1. Charles Sellers
Text 2. Hezekiah Niles
Text 3. Elias Boudinot
Text 4. Lewis Cass
Text 5. James Glover Baldwin
Text 6. George Fitzhugh
Text 7. Henry David Thoreau
» Reading Guide
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Text 8. Harriet Beecher Stowe


RESOURCE MENU » Reading Guide Link

Reading Guide
7.  Henry David Thoreau, excerpts from "Economy," Ch. 1 of Walden, 1854

Fitzhugh would agree with Thoreau's claim that the market enslaves us all and robs us of our divinity. But while Fitzhugh believes it is the slaves' destiny to do society's menial work, Thoreau wishes that all of us could spend our time "better than digging in the dirt." And he means both literal and metaphorical dirt. Just as Fitzhugh's Sociology is more than a defense of slavery, Thoreau's Walden is more than a critique of the market economy. He wrote it while his countrymen were busy leveling forests, building railroads, sailing clipper ships, and chasing Indians—in effect, while they were building the world Niles describes. Thoreau takes the measure of these endeavors by asking why we are doing them and what kind of life they produce. Walden is, finally, a meditation on the relationship between means and ends and an inquiry into the good life. Could be used with students. 24 pages.


Discussion questions
  ·  Why, in Thoreau's view, would people be better off if they detached themselves from the market economy?
  ·  According to Thoreau, what values would moderate the effects of the market economy?
  ·  How does Thoreau redefine terms like "cost," "economy," and "interest"?
  ·  How does Thoreau critique the progress represented by what he calls "modern improvements"?
  ·  What is the "product" of Thoreau's economy?
  ·  What similarities do Thoreau's arguments in Walden share with Fitzhugh's in his Sociology?
  ·  How do their arguments differ?


Reading highlights
  ·  Note how Thoreau casts himself as an economic man—borrowing capital, paying dividends, keeping precise records, calculating investments and returns, etc.
  ·  Note that Thoreau's concern is for the individual while Fitzhugh's is for an entire society.


» Link


Topic Framing Questions
  •  How did the various people living in the United States in the first half of the nineteenth century respond to the emergence of a national market economy?




Toolbox: The Triumph of Nationalism / The House Dividing
Common Man | Cult of Domesticity | Religion | Expansion | America in 1850

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