Civilization and Modernity: Thoreau’s Experience likened Universal

Griffin Fraser, Rachel Swihart, Mari Greaney, Izzy Covert, Cole Donley, and Syd Hollister


Thoreau’s changes in these passages reflect his changing opinions on how people fit into modern society. Thoreau’s changes, such as ‘man’ to ‘family’ and trying to decide whether to use the term ‘savage’ or ‘Indian’ when referring to Native American, in this section of text about property and the drawbacks of modernity, reflect his evolving beliefs about how certain groups of people fit into and interact with modern civilization.


One of the main challenges we faced in this project was locating all of the manuscript pages for the versions of 45a, b, c, d, and 46a and b. The only manuscript pages we were able to easily find using the manuscript search tool was version A for 45a, c, d, and 46a, and version B for 45b. In order to overcome this and actually see the changes in the manuscript leaves that were reflected in the fluid text, we had to find leaves that were fairly close in the versions we were looking for and combing the subsequent pages for words or phrases in the sections we were looking for. Using these methods, we were able to find all the manuscript leaves that reflected changes in the passages we chose.

Changes in the Manuscript

Throughout the passages of Walden our group was able to find many changes that Thoreau made from his first versions that he created, to version D. The passages we have decided to focus on are Economy 45 and 46.

Changes Between Version A and Version B

When looking at paragraph 45, the first thing we noticed is that version A is somewhat shorter than version B. In the beginning of the paragraph, he makes a few word changes. We think he changes man to family, which indicates that he understands that modernity and the property crisis does not only affect the ‘man of the house,’ or the ‘head of the household’ – it affects all of the townspeople. Thoreau seems to be focused mostly on making his writing more clear and concise, as well as trying to write in a way that more people would understand. He removes the personification of ‘Civilization’ – in version A, he refers to civilization as ‘her’ and allows it to have action, but changes the pronoun to ‘it’ and changes the sentence format of anything ‘civilization’ did to the passive voice, so there isn’t an active agent. In this novel, Thoreau seems to be contrasting nature versus civilization, and so this seems to reflect this. Nature is usually thought about in feminine terms – “mother nature,” while industry and civilization are usually referred to in a more masculine sense. In his first draft, he refers to civilization with feminine pronouns, which subverts expectations, but he changes it. This is probably to fit in with the expectations of his audience, as well as preserve the dichotomy of civilization versus nature. He seems to make many changes in version B but then has a lot of individual words and sentences striked through, implying that he was probably just cutting them out to make it shorter. We believe he changes his word use of Indians to savages because he wanted to imply a more negative connotation to these people. He explains the abode in much more detail in version B, followed by the line, “But how happens it that he who is said to enjoy these things is so commonly a poor civilized man, while the savage, who has them not, is rich as a savage?” We think this shows that he is not in favor of the savage. He is also creating a dichotomy between the ‘civilized man’ and ‘savage,’ which seemingly reflects his belief that Indigenous people aren’t within civilization, and instead are preserved outside of it. Again in 45d he switches the use of she to it making his work more gender neutral and accurate. He corrects his numbers from $1000 to $800 to make his writing more accurate for the time being. He makes no other major changes for the rest of the passage other than editing one sentence to shorten it down to just a word. In Version B of the same paragraph, Thoreau changes a few words in the initial first sentence such as “…will be perceived” to “…may be guessed”, we can assume this change was made to help the reader better understand Thoreau’s thinking on this topic as he may have assumed this statement rather than perceived it. Perhaps the biggest change to this paragraph however, is the addition of an entire new sentence that shows us some mildly contradicting ideas compared to the already existing first sentence: “But perhaps a man is not required to bury himself.” This sentence shows how he thinks that even though civilization may be unkind to the average person, we are ‘buried Why he may have added this is somewhat unclear, as we can assume it is to provide more context to the first sentence, it is hard to say that as these contradicting ideas make it clear that is not that case.

Changes Between Version B and Version C

From versions B to C, he adds 45b, in which he criticizes and includes renting in his discussion of property and homes.

46b Version C Manuscript

In this version, he also removes some text that he had interlined in pencil that seemingly is asking the poor to be happy with what they have instead of seeking to gain more. This may have been removed because, in the rest of the text, Thoreau seems to be really sympathetic to the poor, while this interlined sentence did not seem to be very sympathetic. He seems to think that the poor should fit better into civilization, though it is not easy for them to live within it, so removing the line shows that this belief of his still stands. . There is an added 45b section in version C that is as follows, “I do not mean to insist here on the disadvantage of hiring compared with owning, but it is evident that the savage owns his shelter because it costs so little, while the civilized man hires his commonly because he cannot afford to own it; nor can he, in the long run, any better afford to hire.” We think that he includes this as a clarification for his previous writing in the passage. He wants the reader to know why he addresses the topic in this way. This is also a continuation of the dichotomy he is working on building, of the ‘savage’ versus the civilized man. Thoreau also takes out two sentences towards the end of version B that talk about his opinion on owning an abode, saying that an owner should be content with what they have even if it is less. We think he omits this because he may have changed his mind or thinks it wasn’t necessary to include it as another point to make.

Changes Between Version C and Version D

The changes between Versions C and D is mainly to change some already changed words back to how they were in Version B, almost as though Thoreau looked at the changes he made for too long and hated what he wrote. Another significant change is the deletion of “…for even sickness is a beginning to die, and therefore every doctor’s bill is a funeral expense…”, maybe this was taken out in the case of there is too much information, or that Thoreau deemed it unnecessary. When it comes to Paragraph 46b, the entire thing was added in Version D and was not present before then.

Version D Economy 46

This addition talks about “the savage” and how they do not fit into the “civilized’ life of an institution. Thoreau does talk about how he feels that the disadvantaged “savages” have not made any sacrifices as compared to the “advantaged” peoples. This is a classic example of the “noble savage” trope – how indigenous people are constantly looked at as outside of civilization and closer to nature than those ‘civilized’ people who live in towns and villages. Of course, this trope is nothing more than disguised prejudice and ignores the centuries of advanced civilization of Native Americans, long before Europeans arrived on their shores. This trope also ignores the fact that indigenous people in modern times, including in Thoreau’s day, lived in towns and villages as well and are just as ‘civilized’ as anyone else. He is drawing on the past, which is a common occurrence when using the ‘noble savage’ trope, and ignoring that indigenous people, too, make advancements and innovations in the way they live and interact with wider society. This shows very clearly that Thoreau does not see Native people as living within civilization or even at all affected by civilization, which is just simply untrue.


Thoreau’s views on who fits in (and therefore, who doesn’t) color his whole narrative of trying to escape from civilization by going to Walden Pond. By drawing out those types of people whom he believes are impacted by modernity and civilization, he very much excludes groups of people that he believes are outside of civilization’s realm of influence. While modernity affected (and still affects) different groups in different ways, no one escapes unscathed and no one can fully avoid the consequences of industrialization and globalization. This gap between what Thoreau so clearly believes and what was the truth shows that Thoreau had a view of modernity that was very specific to his immediate circumstances, and didn’t consider people with different experiences than his. This shows that, though he liked to discuss civilization and modernity as universals, his descriptions of civilization and modernity only applied to a small portion of people in America, and was therefore a construct that he created in his writing.

A Corner of Nature on Campus

On SUNY Geneseo’s campus, it can be extremely difficult to escape the concrete and pavement that seems to circumscribe any green areas. That isn’t even going into the fences and signs that don’t allow us to get to one of the few dedicated green spaces near any academic buildings. One of the only places a student living on SUNY Geneseo’s campus can go to really experience nature without a car is the Roemer Arboretum. Despite being one of the farthest areas from academic buildings, it is fairly easily accessible, though it may be a bit of a walk. I have been going to the arboretum for four years now, anytime I needed an escape from classes – my freshman year, on zoom, or, since then, the fluorescent lighting and cold, inorganic classrooms. I have seen the Arboretum develop over the years – as a freshman, living in Onondaga Hall (which is very close to the arboretum), in order to get to the gazebo and actually out of sight of the parking lots, you had to balance on one of two wooden planks that went over a marshy area, and try your best to keep that balance when they inevitably bowed under your weight. I experienced when they replaced those boards with newer, sturdier boards, and now, as there is an actual footbridge over the wet, marshy area. To me, the arboretum has always been a place of peace and quiet, to escape the chaos of campus and classes and the world, in general. It has been, since my freshman year, when it became a 15 minute walk instead of a 3 minute walk, somewhere that I have always gone alone. No one I’ve lived with has really wanted to make that trek, so it became a time of true quiet and contemplation whenever I’d go there. One of my favorite things about the arboretum is, if you go there on a clear night, you can see the stars and constellations – this is something that is not possible anywhere else on campus.

One thing that I always find comforting about nature (especially when it is not tampered with by human hands) is how slow, consistent, and expected any changes are. Though people have changed some things in the arboretum – adding a bee box, cutting down a few trees, or replacing the footbridge – everything else is consistently what you expect. The trees get green, and then colorful, and then the leaves fall, and then they bud again. The plants consistently look the same as they do at this point in the season any year I go. When life moves as fast as it seems to be – maybe more to me, since it seems my whole life is being uprooted as graduation looms on the horizon – a place where everything is slow and consistent and unchanged is of immense comfort.

On my very last GREAT Day before I graduate, I met with my group to go to the Arboretum to be in nature for a while. It was a chilly, rainy day, and I had already had to be at an event for GREAT Day, so I was in a skirt. The misty rain and the brutal wind made the walk a little less enjoyable than usual, but, in a way, it allowed me to feel a little deeper what this part of the season is for the plants in the arboretum. Though it was fairly dark and dreary, there was no sun to be seen, and the windblown raindrops felt like tiny pebbles against my legs, you could see the plants getting greener and the buds growing. The dark day was made so much brighter by the deepest green coming out in the buds on the plants, and in the growing grass, and the small blossoms blooming on some of the shrubbery. Standing in the gazebo, the only sounds other than the group talking about this experience was the raindrops on the roof of the gazebo, the wind blowing through the trees, and the birds flying around, landing and taking off from the trees, and singing, despite the gloom of the day.


The entire experience was one of immense hope – despite the objective imperfections of the day, everyone could tell that these kinds of days are what is needed to have beautiful green sunny days in the future. It’s a feeling I’m choosing to hold onto, as I get through the stress of my last finals period in my undergrad, and the uncertainty that is coming with graduation – nature needs the gloomy periods in order to have beautiful, bright, and better days.

Understanding Computers: From Mystical to Manageable

Before Starting this Class

I was markedly ‘anti-computer’ in my scholarship before. I would pay more for a physical copy of a book instead of a computer copy, I would take all of my notes by hand, and I would write out essays in a notebook before typing them up. I really thought that it was better – for learning, and also just personal preference. I was really comfortable in the aspect of my identity that said “I’m not good with computers.” And this wasn’t really for lack of trying – I tried to be tech-savvy and to be ‘modern’ in my use of technology, and it just didn’t really work for me – I always got tripped up and frustrated and would return to my comfort zone of paper and pen.

The Process

However, just through the first few weeks of this class, I have gained so much comfortability in using a computer in different ways than I ever had before. If you had told me last fall that I could use code to make my computer do things for me, I would not have believed you, and probably would have laughed. Even just understanding the file system of a computer was a huge step for me, let alone navigating it through GitBash. I was so surprised when my script to open up, name, and edit a markdown journal file actually worked – it just never seemed like something I’d be able to do. I think a lot of this had to do with how it was framed – I had always considered computers to be something like magic – something that is to be used as much as you can, but outside of my capacity for understanding. Understanding how computing in the modern sense came to be really helped, and so did a systematic breakdown and intuitive flow through information. This all made it seem possible to undersand, and much less mysterious and magical.

The Results

This increase in knowledge and skill in regards to computers has really changed the way I am living my day-to-day life. I had always used a bound paper planner – on that I used a ruler to draw, since no planners I could find worked for how I was using it. This took so much time and effort – and this isn’t to bash paper planners, because I still use it some and I still really love the process that went into it – but it was restrictive because of the time it took. Since starting this class, I have been really able and willing to transfer my planner organization onto a notion page and use it to keep track of deadlines and tasks and events, and it’s so much quicker and easier than copying things over by hand. I have also started – not only in this class, where it’s an assignment – to take notes on my laptop and actually be able to focus while doing so. I don’t lament having to read or write on my computer anymore – and I think that’s just a byproduct of actually understanding what’s happening when I’m using it.