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Thoreau and Crane Essay Rebecca Aitken Cap English Green Group November 1, 2013

Thoreau and Crane Essay

Henry David Thoreau, in Walden, and Stephen Crane, in Maggie: A Girl of the Streets display different views of self-reliance and what determines one’s life path, and a similar view on philanthropy. Walden is Thoreau’s personal account of his solitary trip into the woods, where he writes to analyze society, material possession, and self-reliance. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is a fictional story that focuses on the degradation of a young tenement girl growing up with her family. Walden is a transcendentalist work, while Maggie: A Girl of the Streets is a realist work. As a result of this, there are both similarities and differences present between the pieces. Thoreau applauds self-reliance, while Crane acknowledges that self-reliance is necessary for certain people. The main purpose Thoreau has for venturing to the woods is that he wishes to experiment and to see if it is possible to live depending solely upon oneself. One of Thoreau’s biggest ideas is simplification, and self-reliance is a way to simplify one’s life. Thoreau stresses that when one has self-reliance, he or she is more capable of doing what is best for him or her. During his time away from society, Thoreau provides evidence that it is quite possible to support himself through his own labor. In the first section of Walden, entitled Economy, Thoreau supports self-reliance and condemns dependence on others. He discusses Native Americans and wigwams, applauding how said shelters are cheap, but offer what is absolutely necessary. Thoreau appreciates the wigwams so greatly because there is no debt behind them. Those who buy fancy, expensive houses and luxuries, on the other hand, often find themselves in a bounty of debt, as they take loans from the bank. These people are dependent on the bank until they are able to pay them back. Thoreau discusses this subject, writing that those who buy expensive homes pay a tax “which would buy a village of Indian wigwams, but now helps to keep them

poor as long as they live” (127). The Native Americans who reside in wigwams do not have to worry about that. Thoreau additionally comments that when he is not anchored to anything or anyone else, “I could follow the bent of my grains” (147). In Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, Crane does not support or refute self-reliance, but he does establish his view that it is impossible to achieve for some. Maggie attempts to achieve self-reliance and gets a job, but after meeting Pete she becomes attached and allows herself to depend on him. Crane writes, “Maggie was pale. From her eyes had been plucked all look of self-reliance. She leaned with a dependent air toward her companion” (73). Eventually, her attachment to Pete ends in disappointment. Maggie’s own family even ends up rejecting her. Jimmie, her brother, “publicly damns” his sister upon finding out she has become a prostitute; additionally, when she tries to come home, he turns her away ruthlessly and tells her to “go teh hell” (77, 82). Walden displays support of self-reliance, and Maggie: A Girl of the Streets merely acknowledges that it is necessary for some. Thoreau and Crane have different views on what determines one’s life path. Thoreau believes that choice serves a role; however, Crane believes that fate determines it. Thoreau emphasizes self-reliance and simplicity, and he believes that if one relies on oneself and simplifies his or her life, he or she will be benefitted. People who live simply, according to Thoreau, will be debt-free. Alternately, people who choose to live with luxuries and goods they can’t afford will be in debt. In this way, one is able to control his or her outcome. Crane holds an entirely different view. He shows that people cannot change their life’s path; fates determines what will happen. Maggie: A Girl of the Streets reinforces this idea. Although Maggie tries to turn her life around as she becomes an adult, this does not end well for her. At the beginning of the story, the reader is exposed to her abusive family. Maggie grows up and gets a job in a clothing factory, hoping for a better life. Crane writes that “[Maggie] wondered if the culture and

refinement she had seen…could be acquired by a girl who lived in a tenement house and worked in a shirt factory” (62). Then, unfortunately, she falls in love with Pete and allows herself to depend on him. She ends continuing the bad life with which she started. The different views that Thoreau and Crane hold on what determines one’s life path are showcased in Walden and Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Both Thoreau and Crane support the idea of philanthropy, but see philanthropists as hypocrites. Thoreau’s feelings on this subject are strong. He writes that those engaging in philanthropy are merely “indulging” selfishly, and acting for their own sake (159). Thoreau continues to say that philanthropists are “greatly overrated” and that he or she who identifies as a philanthropist “too often surrounds mankind with the remembrance of his own cast-off griefs as an atmosphere, and calls it sympathy” (162). The idea of philanthropy, however, is appealing to Thoreau. He supports doing good for others, but he questions the motives behind those who do so. Crane feels the same way, and he exposes his feelings clearly in Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. At one point in the story, when Pete is talking to Maggie, Crane writes that he speaks with “tones of philanthropy” (73). Pete pretends that he loves Maggie and is trying to support her, but he betrays her in the end. This shows the selfish drive that is hidden underneath his seemingly kind actions. Later in the story, Maggie runs into a priest and seeks help from him. Crane describes the situation, saying that as Maggie approaches the priest, “he gave a convulsive movement and saved his respectability by a vigorous side-step. He did not risk it to save a soul” (87). The priest prioritized his own reputation over Maggie’s well-being. At the beginning of the story, several characters appear to be philanthropists, but by the end the reader can see that Crane identifies with Thoreau when it comes to philanthropy and philanthropists.

Thoreau and Crane showcase their views on self-reliance, what determines one’s life path, and philanthropy in Walden and Maggie: A Girl of the Streets. Thoreau strongly supports self-reliance; this is one of his biggest ideas. He opposes depending on others and applauds selfreliance. Crane, on the other hand, merely recognizes that self-reliance is necessary for certain people. Maggie, the main character in the story, is an optimal example of a person who needs to rely on others. Thoreau believes that people serve a role in determining their own fate. He writes that one will benefit from having self-reliance and simplifying his or her life. Crane believes that there is not much choice; fate itself is responsible for what happens to a person. Philanthropy is a subject on which they stare views. Both writers support the idea of philanthropy, but do not like philanthropists; they view them as hypocrites. Walden and Maggie: A Girl of the Streets offer the reader a chance to see the different beliefs of Henry David Thoreau and Stephen Crane.

Works Cited Crane, Stephen. Maggie A Girl of the Streets. Ed. Kevin J. Hayes. N.p.: Bedford Cultural Editions, 1999. Print. Thoreau, Henry David. "Walden, Economy." Walden and Other Writings by Henry David Thoreau. Ed. Joseph Wood Krutch. 1854. N.p.: Bantam Books, 1962. 107-65. Print.