"Gardening is civil and social, but it wants the vigor and freedom of the forest and the outlaw." - Henry David Thoreau
A literary writing style is one of the most elusive literary elements to clearly define. In that vein, it is very difficult to shove Henry David Thoreau, the most iconoclastic square peg of all authors, into a formal vs. conversational stylistic round hole. If there is a single word for Henry David Thoreau's writing style in "Civil Disobedience," it is his own word for the style he believed all writers should attempt: vigorous.
Henry David Thoreau's Writing Style
Thoreau's vigorous style consists of his own idea of word flow in phrases like "more a tidal wave than a prone river." His work "Civil Disobedience" makes waves skillfully, with opening passages that move his thesis from the need for little government to that "which governs not at all." He proceeds to reason out man's need for autonomy with the government's role as temporary servant and the need to support a republic only when in danger. He further concludes that "it is not too soon for honest men to rebel." His word flow is directed by the flow of his logical need for revolution and is emphasized in Henry David Thoreau's impact on literature.
Balanced and Periodic Sentences
"A perfectly healthy sentence is extremely rare," said Thoreau. The syntactical style in Henry David Thoreau poems rebels against conventional writing. He is fond of the periodic sentence which traps a subject in the middle like when he wrote "Under a government which imprisons any unjustly, the true place for a just man is always prison." Thoreau is also given to balanced sentences, where the sentence is a scale weighing ideas: "The State ... never confronts a man's sense ... but only his body, his senses." His vigor thus achieves, in syntax, both moral equanimity and literal balance.
Style in Syntax and Diction
"Civil Disobedience" was composed after Thoreau's night in jail for tax avoidance and nowhere does his style find more vigor than in his description of his release from prison. The sentences are lengthy, packed with ideas and seem to come spilling out of him. They reflect his chaotic thoughts where "every sentence is the result of a long probation." He seems most struck by the change to his locale "greater than any that mere time could effect." Henry David Thoreau's impact comes through in his syntax and diction that suggest with words a man that is struggling to find a foothold in a world he has lost.
Vigor in Figurative Language
Thoreau wrote that "the tougher truth" is to "get calluses on his palms." His writing style uses figurative language extensively to characterize the state as a busybody gossip and himself as Orpheus. Unable to "change the nature" of men, Thoreau cries out for a political genius to grow like an apple and "to drop off as soon as it ripened." In figurative language, syntax, diction and word flow; Thoreau's stylistic vigor matches his own vigor in rebellious philosophy.
Michael Stratford is a National Board-certified and Single Subject Credentialed teacher with a Master of Science in educational rehabilitation (University of Montana, 1995). He has taught English at the 6-12 level for more than 20 years. He has written extensively in literary criticism, student writing syllabi and numerous classroom educational paradigms.