Date of Award

5-2019

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

English

Committee Member

Dominic Mastroianni, Committee Chair

Committee Member

Andrew Lemons

Committee Member

Matthew Hooley

Abstract

While much of the Journal exemplifies Henry David Thoreau’s intent to improve the self, this thesis suggests that the Journal was used as a device for maintaining the potential to improve, or refine, rather than acting as a conduit for achieving the fully improved self. In his progress toward becoming his ideal self, Thoreau performs an act of defamiliarization in his writing by omitting himself from his entries and by writing about himself indirectly by writing about an entity that is separate from him, nature. This paper also explores the importance of the concept of change for Thoreau as it appears to be an integral factor in the identity of an individual and as Thoreau glorifies this abstract concept in his extensive calendrical work. In mapping the changes in nature, Thoreau perhaps aims to map the reciprocal changes in himself, whereby he may gain a more complete understanding of himself; however, gaining a complete knowledge of the self is also not Thoreau’s intent as doing so would imply that there is nothing new to discover. The Journal, therefore, is a device for creating the potential to learn something new rather than a device for understanding the self completely, and this maintenance of potential for endless discovery also elicits endless potential for refinement. This thesis, therefore, argues that Thoreau does not wish to achieve the fully refined self because doing so would imply that he could no longer improve and that there would be no more possibility, nor need, for the “change” which he glorifies. As the format of the Journal is also in a constant state of potential for refinement, Thoreau is able to refine the very process he uses to refine himself; however, the true value of this is its potential for this meta-refinement as Thoreau’s Journal maintains the endless potential for both the discovery and refinement of the self.

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