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Title:Pressing the Seed: Thoreau's Rhetorical Strategies
Author(s):Payne, William Donald
Department / Program:English
Degree Granting Institution:University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
Subject(s):Literature, American
Abstract:Thoreau has often been praised for his skillful shaping of sentences and correspondingly criticized for the discontinuity in his longer works. This study explores the question of pace in Thoreau's prose--how that pace is achieved and how it relates to our rhetorical expectations as readers. To analyze the shifting tones in Thoreau's writing, especially his more literary nature writing, I have singled out four common stances that he takes toward his material, depending on whether he emphasizes the story (a dramatic strategy), the storyteller (a narrative strategy), the setting or symbolic import of the story (a poetic strategy), or the moral of the story (an expository strategy).
This study is divided into five chapters. The first discusses four early essays, "The Landlord," "Natural History of Massachusetts," "A Walk to Wachusett," and "A Winter Walk." In those essays the excursion emerges as a device for dramatic unity, and opposition (in theme, imagery, and point of view) as an identifiable rhetorical and stylistic habit. The basic strategy in "The Landlord" is poetic, centered on the imaginary character of the title and on the ironic imagery associated with his vocation. "Natural History" is a more experimental essay, with weak overall unity but with smaller sections unified by diverse methods--redefinition of terms, scientific catalogues, seasonal cycles, myth. In "A Walk to Wachusett" Thoreau's imaginative forays into the Concord countryside are formalized through the journey motif and the symbolic rendering of mountain-plain and day-night. "A Winter Walk" mutes the excursion motif, focusing instead on the opposing view of civilized man and natural man and upon Thoreau's change from literal indweller to spiritual indweller. With these last two essays Thoreau begins to combine dramatic, poetic, and narrative strategies into more unified patterns.
The next two chapters examine the rhetorical strategies in A Week on the Concord and Merrimac Rivers. They identify a basic movement from the literal to the metaphorical to the expository, an inductive pattern firmly established in the book's early chapters, then abandoned in many later sections. The resulting discontinuity in these sections is only partially offset by minor unifying devices--personal mythology, catalogue rhetoric, and temporal-spatial perspective.
Chapter Three describes Walden's more successful merging of rhetorical strategies. That book is able to concentrate in a single word or image or tone or action the collective emphasis of a whole chapter and of others beyond. The shifts in theme, time, and space are less rapid, more clearly marked, and more logical than in earlier works. Each chapter not only picks up the threads of the previous one but also establishes its own perspective, which develops by discernible patterns to a concluding comment or image.
The last chapter studies three late essays, "Walking," "Autumnal Tints," and "Wild Apples," where there is an increased complexity of the narrative strategy, an expansion of the catalogue as a structural device, and a concern for perception as both theme and technique.
Rather than any clear linear development, the works studied here show a persistent struggle between the fragmentation of an encyclopedic form and the unifying force of certain recurrent and complex rhetorical strategies. Perhaps the lesson of Walden is that, given Thoreau's method of composition, continuity could be achieved only after years of exacting revision.
Issue Date:1980
Description:297 p.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1980.
Other Identifier(s):(UMI)AAI8026569
Date Available in IDEALS:2014-12-12
Date Deposited:1980

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