¶ 1 Leave a comment on paragraph 1 0 Henry David Thoreau was a man of many talents. He was an American essayist, poet, philosopher, abolitionist, naturalist, tax resister, development critic, surveyor, and historian. In “Pond Scum”, Kathryn Schulz adds a few bold titles to that list. She argues that, among many things, Henry David Thoreau was narcissistic, misanthropic, and hypocritical. As if that was not enough, she also throws in the notion that his work is full of contradiction, and he did not really live in the woods in solitude. The nicest thing Schulz had to say about Thoreau was that he was an “excellent naturalist.” Overall, the most damning claim that Schulz makes about Thoreau is that Thoreau was a narcissist; he regarded himself to be more superior than others in all aspects. I firmly agree with Schulz’ claim, as there is more than enough evidence to support this claim, both in “Pond Scum,” as well as in Thoreau’s works.
¶ 2 Leave a comment on paragraph 2 0 Much like Kanye loves Kanye, nobody loves Thoreau as much as Thoreau Ioves Thoreau. Throughout “Pond Scum,” Schulz offers several key pieces of evidence to support her claim that Thoreau was a narcissist. According to Schulz, Thoreau was “adamant that he required nothing beyond himself to understand and thrive in the world.” She discusses how he advised his readers how to “best” eat, drink, and live their lives, implying that he believed his way of life was better than others. Schulz makes it very clear that Thoreau thought extremely highly of himself, all while looking down upon others. While other men had the “same moral status as doormats” in Thoreau’s eyes, he believed he was favored by the gods. Schulz further explains how Thoreau believed himself to possess the “revealed truth” and that it was his job to act as a prophet and enlighten the rest of mankind. Narcissistic and pretentious would be an understatement here.
¶ 3 Leave a comment on paragraph 3 2 Some may argue that Thoreau’s transcendental ideas are being mistaken for narcissism. However, I firmly support Schulz’ claim that Thoreau is indeed, a narcissist. His own work, “Walden,” while offering some evidence against this, largely incriminates him as such. For starters, the word “I” is used 1818 times in “Walden,”making it a fair assessment that Thoreau talked about himself quite a bit.
¶ 5 Leave a comment on paragraph 5 0 “Me” and “myself” make quite a few appearances as well. If Thoreau was asked who his favorite people were, I’m sure he would say, “me,” myself,” and “I.” When you compare it to the use of the word “we” throughout “Walden,” it becomes apparent that Thoreau did not put himself in the same playing field as other men very often.
¶ 7 Leave a comment on paragraph 7 0 As Schulz has mentioned in Pond Scum, Thoreau spends the entire first chapter of “Economy” discussing how the ways in which one should abstain from evil. We’re not talking about a twenty page chapter here. We’re talking about eighty plus pages of Thoreau dictating how he believed everyone should live their life , making it apparent to the readers that Thoreau believed his lifestyle was the gold standard of living.
¶ 8 Leave a comment on paragraph 8 0 In “Economy,” Thoreau writes “If I seem to boast more than is becoming, my excuse is that I brag for humanity rather than myself…” As a reader, I consent to the fact that Thoreau comes across as more human for being able to admit that he has shortcomings. Those who argue that Thoreau is not a narcissist, will emphasize that Thoreau explicitly states that he is not bragging for himself. However, I interpret this quote as Thoreau saying, “Look at me, the best humanity has to offer.” While Thoreau was a very accomplished individual, no matter how accomplished one is, it is a bit conceited to believe that it gives you the right to brag for all of humanity.
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In “The Bean-Field,” Thoreau dedicates 17 paragraphs to a field of beans he planted, which begs to question did I, as a reader, miss a valuable life lesson among the beans, or did Thoreau really believe these beans he planted to be that important. When talking about these beans, Thoreau states
“Mine was, as it were, the connecting link between wild and cultivated fields; as some states are civilized, and others half-civilized, and others savage or barbarous, so my field was, though not in a bad sense, a half-cultivated field. They were beans cheerfully returning to their wild and primitive state that I cultivated, and my hoe played the Ranz des Vaches for them.” Thoreau seems to brag about the labor he puts into growing these beans which are the “connecting link” to the wild, yet he looks down on those who cultivate beans as a living. Does Thoreau view himself as a better man than others for growing beans as a recreational and spiritual journey of sorts?
¶ 10 Leave a comment on paragraph 10 0 In “The Village,” Thoreau makes it very clear that he views himself as better than the rest of mankind. He even goes so far as to compare them to animals. “In one direction from my house there was a colony of muskrats in the river meadows; under the grove of elms and buttonwoods in the other horizon was a village of busy men, as curious to me as if they had been prairie dogs, each sitting at the mouth of its burrow, or running over to a neighbor’s to gossip. I went there frequently to observe their habits.”. Thoreau does not hold himself on the same level as other men. He discusses the villagers and their daily happenings as if he is a scientist observing animals in a glass cage. He views their daily tasks as mundial, while viewing his tasks as enlightening. He refers to men as if he is not a man himself, but rather some higher being.
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Thoreau goes so far as to outright say so in “Solitude.”
“Sometimes, when I compare myself with other men, it seems as if I were more favored by the gods than they, beyond any deserts that I am conscious of; as if I had a warrant and surety at their hands which my fellows have not, and were especially guided and guarded.” On one hand, I envy Thoreau’s self esteem… on the other hand, I am incredulous that anyone’s head could possibly be that big. It is a miracle that Thoreau was able to fit his large ego into his tiny cabin on Walden Pond. The fact that Thoreau believes himself to be guided and favored by the gods, more so than everyone else, should be enough to solidify the claim that Thoreau is a narcissist.
¶ 12 Leave a comment on paragraph 12 0 Henry David Thoreau was not completely conceited however. Thoreau occasionally does admit to having some flaws and shortcomings. He even goes so far as to admit in “Economy,” that he “never knew, and never shall know, a worse man than [himself].” That is a very bold statement to proclaim,and while it says a lot about his character to admit such flaws, it is overshadowed by the overwhelming evidence that supports the claim that Thoreau is a narcissist.
¶ 13 Leave a comment on paragraph 13 0 In a sense, Thoreau was the equivalent of a modern day Narcissus. Kathryn Schulz offers pretty convincing evidence of Thoreau’s narcissism in her article “Pond Scum,” and many examples of his narcissism can be found throughout “Walden.” While it can be argued that Thoreau admitted many of his shortcomings and was therefore not a narcissist, this is greatly overshadowed by the amount of evidence that supports the contrary.