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The autobiography Walden, or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau is a personal narrative describing how and why he performed his experiment of living at Walden Pond, close to nature. “Economy” describes Thoreau’s personal experience in the beginning of his time at Walden, while “Conclusion” sums up Thoreau’s beliefs about how people should live their lives. In the different sections of the essay, Thoreau uses the three basic persuasive tactics to convince readers that his beliefs are correct: ethos, logos, and pathos. Ethos invokes our rationale that people with personal expertise or experience on a subject are more credible than those without. Logos appeals to the rational part of our thinking because by nature we trust data and the idea of cause and effect. Pathos conjures up what we think and feel about different subjects using word choice (General). Authors try to persuade the reader using these techniques by appealing to various aspects of his or her thinking. In Walden, the section “Economy” and the section “Conclusion” share a common theme, which is that one can be self-reliant and live the simplest life possible in order to pursue one’s dream and ultimately one’s spiritual freedom. In “Economy”, Thoreau uses logos and ethos to develop his theme because he uses personal experience and his own records as evidence to support his view, but in “Conclusion”, he uses pathos because he states his opinion and reveals his passions, thereby appealing to the readers’ emotions and values.
A major element of “Economy” is the use of ethos to establish credibility, since Thoreau is a city man and conducted his experiment in order to gain some experience living in the wilderness. Ethos is the main way that “Economy” conveys Thoreau’s message that one should be self-reliant and live simply. He tells us that he “[has lived] alone, in the woods…[earning his] living by the labor of [his] hands only. [He has lived there] two years and two months”, and now he is “a sojourner in civilized life again” (Thoreau 217). Thoreau starts by buying an old, beat-up shanty, and the same morning he moves in, he takes “down this dwelling…and [removes] it to the pond side by small cartloads” (Thoreau 218). When building the house, he transports “two cartloads of stones up the hill from the pond in [his] arms” (Thoreau 218). In order to preserve food for the winter, he digs a cellar “in the side of a hill sloping to the south…down through sumac and blackberry roots, and the lowest stain of vegetation…to a fine sand” (Thoreau 218). Building a house is probably the most difficult part of making a living independently, but Thoreau, a city man, is successful at it. To both earn money and provide food for himself, he plants “about two acres and a half of light and sandy soil near [the house] chiefly with beans, but also a small part with potatoes, corn, peas, and turnips” (Thoreau 219), even though one farmer before has said that the land was “good for nothing but to raise cheeping squirrels on” (Thoreau 219). Although the land near Walden is not the most fertile, Thoreau is still able to provide sufficient food for himself. As far as fuel and staying warm are concerned, he has gotten “several cords of stumps in plowing”, and the remainder of his fuel consisted of “dead and…unmerchantable wood behind [his] house” (Thoreau 220). The fact that he is able to obtain so much fuel from Walden shows that nature already provides plenty of resources for us that we should make use of. Through his experiences of building his own house, planting his own crops, and gathering fuel from nature, Thoreau builds readers’ respect for him on the subject of being self-reliant and living a simple life.
“Economy” uses some logos to convey the fact that it is possible to live with only the basic human necessities and cultivate a living from one’s own hands. Thoreau meticulously keeps a list of expenses on his house. On his house, he spent a total of “$28.12 ½” (Thoreau 219), compared to a new home in Brooklyn, NY, which costs about $2,500 in the 1850s (History). Relying on his own labor, Thoreau got a home for one-hundredth of that price. In addition, he says that he spent “1.40” on transportation, because he carries “a good part on [his] back” (Thoreau 219). From his planting, he ends up getting “twelve bushels of beans, and eighteen bushels of potatoes, besides some peas and sweet corn” (Thoreau 220). Such quantities are definitely enough to sustain a person throughout the year. These statistics show that anyone, even a city man, can obtain the basic human necessities with his own labor. Through the careful keeping of records, Thoreau is able to buttress his argument because readers are more likely to believe what numbers tell them.
In contrast to “Economy”, “Conclusion” relies more on pathos to convey Thoreau’s ideas. Thoreau often directly states his beliefs with a confident or passionate tone. He tells us that “if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours” (Thoreau 228), revealing a passion and optimism that is not seen in “Economy”. Although there is no direct scientific evidence to support his statement, Thoreau arouses a strong inspiration in readers. He also tells us in “Conclusion” that people will become more enlightened about the universe if they simplify their lives. He writes that “as [a man] simplifies his life, the laws of the universe will appear less complex, and solitude will not be solitude, nor poverty poverty, nor weakness weakness” (Thoreau 228). Here, he uses irony and pathos to convey his belief that by living simply, one can turn around normally negative situations–poverty, solitude, weakness–into positive situations. Thinking about this makes readers feel inspired and more motivated to live a simple but meaningful life, which is the goal of pathos. Thoreau tells us in “Conclusion” that being self-reliant and living a simple life will ultimately allow one to achieve spiritual freedom: “[w]e will not be shipwrecked on a vain reality” (Thoreau 228). By “vain reality”, Thoreau is referring to a reality dominated by material goods. Thoreau believes that a life dominated by many material goods is more miserable than a life dominated by fewer material goods, because material goods cannot give inner freedom. Part of being self-reliant, according to Thoreau, is not trying to imitate others. After all, a “living dog is better than a dead lion” (Thoreau 228), meaning that a living dog should just be a dog and do useful activities, instead of trying to be a lion and not getting the goal. Thoreau makes readers question whether they have lost touch with themselves. He appeals to our values by using strong and emotional diction, stirring up our thinking about what type of life we want to live.
The use of different persuasive tactics–logos, ethos, and pathos–invokes different aspects of human psychology and creates different effects of persuasion in “Economy” and “Conclusion”. Thoreau first builds his argument to the rational side of our thinking by conducting the experiment at Walden and keeping careful records to convince the reader of his credibility and paves the way for his conclusion, then ends with strong, passionate words that appeal to our emotions. The use of the three tactics and the way it is set up makes the argument persuasive and provocative, and we leave with the feeling of inspiration. One gets slightly different impressions about Thoreau when reading the two passages, but both selections are equally convincing and powerful.
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