Posted by: szolnickfsem | 29th Apr, 2008

Final Paper/Project

Thoreau vs. Quiroga

Henry David Thoreau grew up and studied in Massachusetts while Quiroga studied in Uruguay and South America.  Although they grew up and learned in two different countries during different time periods, research has show that they share similar views on nature and the importance of living in simplicity.  Thoreau lived a simple and somewhat easy life compared to Quiroga, who was constantly surrounded by death.  Because of these backgrounds, Quiroga’s writing is darker and more cynical while Thoreau depicts the beauties of living in nature.  Although their writing style is different, the two ingenious authors agree on the themes of nature.  Despite the contrasting backgrounds and lifestyles of Thoreau and Quiroga, their writings show their similar views on nature and experiences in the non-human world.
Throughout his life in the 1800’s, Henry David Thoreau was taught the values of living in simplicity from his father and mentor, Ralph Waldo Emerson.   Through academic studies at a high standard, Thoreau pursued his love of writing and became a teacher.  During his peak years or writing, the Unites States was introducing new views involving Manifest Destiny and the Industrial Revolution was underway.  This new idea that “the sky is the limit” inspired Thoreau to pursue his naturalistic ideals and became a “philosopher of nature and its relation to the human condition.”
He moved to Walden Pond and began writing about themes involving the importance of self-reliance and the nature of simplicity.  Thoreau’s story of living on a pond in the middle of nature with only brief interruptions from society can truly teach us about living in simplicity and the serenity of nature.  Thoreau enjoyed his time alone, stating
“Though the view from my door was still more contracted, I did not feel     crowded or confined in the least. There was pasture enough for my imagination.      The low shrub-oak plateau to which the opposite shore arose, stretched away     toward the prairies of the West and the steppes of the Tartary, affording ample     room for all the rowing families of men,” (page 170, Walden Pond.)
Along with enjoying his life in solitude, Thoreau began to understand values of being alive and awake, “to be awake is to be alive.”  Meaning, as long as he rises with the dawn, he will be as alive as a man can be.  He taught himself to awaken when the sun rises in the morning and to sleep when it sets at night.  As he discovers new meanings to life, he learns from the animals about living in simplicity.  He notices that the animals he studies work solely to live and not for an extravagant lifestyle.  He uses this new information to provide a more simplistic life for himself and slows down his rushed lifestyle that society pressures upon people.
Along with his new views on life in nature, Thoreau is somewhat hypocritical about living completely away form society.  His cabin is actually on the edge of town where he can hear bells from a church and the trains rolling by.  He wants to live by himself in nature but is still comforted by the sounds of the life he lived before and the people he randomly meets in the woods.  Because of this, his connection with the animals grows as he seeks friendship and companions.
“I have never felt lonesome, or in the least oppressed by a sense of solitude, but     once, and that was a few weeks after I came to the woods, when, for an hour, I     doubted if the near neighborhood of man was not essential to a serene and     healthy life.  To be alone was something unpleasant…  I was suddenly sensible     of such a sweet and beneficent society in Nature…  Every little pine needle     expanded and swelled with sympathy and befriended me,” (page 213, Walden     Pond.)
Through living in nature for two years, Thoreau learned that living in simplicity would make live more worthwhile.  He learned from the animals to live with only enough to survive, meaning he worked for only enough food to live and nothing more.  Finally, Thoreau discovers his own interpretation of the meaning of life, stating, “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”
Unlike Thoreau, Horacio Quiroga was born into a low class family in Uruguay.  His entire life was surrounded by death and despair, beginning when his father died in a hunting accident in 1879.  Only a few years later, Quiroga’s stepfather committed suicide and he accidentally kills a close friend.  Because of the constant death, his life was considered to be very miserable and unhappy.  Finally, he makes his first trip to Misiones where he finally feels a connection in nature.  From this moment on, Horacio Quiroga becomes successful in his writing and begins publishing poems and stories.  Although he is still surrounded by death and despair, he becomes a successful writer and is proud of the life he begins to lead.
Quiroga’s “The Wilderness” depicts his sense of despair about death perfectly.  The story begins with a man canoeing in solitude but still one with nature.
“The man knew his river well enough as to not be unaware of where he was, but     on such a night, and under threat of rain.  Landing his craft in the midst of     piercing tacuara canes and patches of rotten reeds was very different from     going ashore in his own little port.  And Subercasaux was not alone in his     canoe.”
By stating the main character was not alone in the canoe just further shows the authors depiction of how one can be completely alone but still have nature by their side.  The story continues to illustrate Subercasaux’s struggle to survive on the river so he can provide for his two motherless children.  He fights against the wilderness for his life every single day.  Like Henry David Thoreau, the main character wakes at dawn to begin his day of survival.  Subercasaux’s children
“Had no fear of the dark, nor of being alone, nor of anything that contributes to     the terror of babies raised at their mother’s skirts…they feared nothing, except     what their father warned them they should fear; and at the top of the list,     naturally, were snakes.”
This lesson is ironic to the story, as Subercasaux eventually dies from the bite of a small flea.  He lectured his children on not fearing nature and simply living in harmony with it and eventually he is killed by one of the most unlikely insects.  “Subercasaux had an infection in one of his toes – the insignificant little toe on his right foot – and couldn’t manage to subdue it.” The lessons he teaches his children help them learn how to live alone in nature without the guidance of an adult because their father knew someday they would be without him.  They are taught simplicity and boundaries and how to live like “free creatures.”  This lesson is similar to the one Thoreau taught himself about being one with nature and living in simplicity. The family worked to survive and even though Subercasaux had an infection in his toe, he went onto the river one stormy night without shoes to help his family survive.  This was a dangerous act but he managed to survive, only to be more ill because of the infection.  His dreams begin to change and his life was slowly slipping away.  He gave his life to the wilderness so his children could survive. Although Thoreau did not encounter any near death experiences, both authors were aware of the fact that when surviving in the non-human world it is necessary to rely on the simplicity of nature and life day by day.  This message of safety and security in nature is detrimental to living in the non-human world.
Despite the fact that Thoreau and Quiroga were born into two completely lifestyles at different time periods, their works carry similar aspects.  Each author illustrates the idea that simplicity in nature is the key component to survival, as well as trust in the non-human world.  Each story provides clear examples of how the men living in solitude survive with the sole intention of making it through the day.  They each realize the life is taken for granted and even the small things in life can ruin everything. Each author depicts an idea that humans cannot control nature, despite the feverish efforts.

“Henry David Thoreau.” American Transcendentalism Web. 23 Apr. 2008     <    oreau/>.

“Henry David Thoreau.” Wikipedia. 23 Apr. 2008     <>.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walden and Other Writings. New York: Bantam Books, 1962.

“Walden – an Annotated Edition.” Easybib. 23 Apr. 2008     <>.

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