300 word minimum response
Question # 00004886 Posted By: Updated on: 12/08/2013 12:20 AM Due on: 12/09/2013
“Resistance to Civil Government”
Why It Should be a Part of the American Literature Canon
“Resistance to Civil Government”, was written by Henry David Thoreau. This short story is an important work of literature that is a part of the American literary canon, and is as relevant today as the time it was written. According to enotes.com, a “literary canon…is comprised of a body of works that are highly valued by scholars and others because of their aesthetic value and because they embody the cultural and political values of that society” (2). The work challenges the dominant ideology of the time, makes one see a view that did not coincide with the popular view, and challenges a person’s political and ideological views of today.
There are three specific criteria when evaluating whether a work of literature should be considered great and included in a literary canon. They are: aesthetic value, reflection of political views of the time, and reflection of cultural values of the time. According to ask.com, aesthetic value are “Those features of a work that contribute to its success and importance as a work of art: the features upon which its significance or beauty supervene. They include the form, content, integrity, harmony, purity, or fittingness of works” (qtd. In Blackburn).
When reading “Resistance to Civil Government”, one will see the theme that resisting an unjust government is a person’s obligation. This is evident when Thoreau writes, “all men recognize the right of revolution; that is, the right to refuse allegiance to, and to resist, the government, when its tyranny or its inefficiency are great and unendurable” (Thoreau 840). Part of aesthetics has to do with integrity. Thoreau had a belief that the American government was unjust and could not support it. We find this evident when he refuses to pay his taxes and is thrown into prison (847). When looking at this work we see its aesthetic value.
The second criterion for a work to be canonized is that it would reflect the political views of the time. This work was written during a time of slavery. Thoreau was an abolitionist, did not believe in slavery, and calls others to oppose it. His actions would go against the majority that approved of it. Thoreau had a belief that many were opposed to slavery, but did nothing to end it (Thoreau 841). Thoreau calls on those who oppose slavery to not provide the government with their taxes or support (844). Thoreau believed that men did not question the government or the morality of slavery. This is evident when he writes, “the mass of men serve the state thus, not as men mainly, but as machines, with their bodies. They are the standing army, and the militia, jailers, constables, posse comitatus, etc.” (839). Thoreau challenged the beliefs at the time, and challenged the government.
One will have to ask, “What great injustice of our time exists that calls men to resist the government of today?” Will those injustices of Thoreau’s time still exist today? Things that Thoreau opposed were taxes, slavery, and an unjust government. One can say those things exist today in some form. There are also many other injustices that have occurred since his time.
The third criterion is that the work reflects the cultural values of the time. Not only was slavery a hot political issue of the time, but it was also deeply imbedded in the culture. Thoreau writes about the reformation of Massachusetts. He states that it is not the politicians of the southern states that opposed abolishing slavery in Massachusetts. Those that opposed abolishing slavery were “a hundred thousand merchants and farmers here, who are more interested in commerce and agriculture than they are in humanity, and are not prepared to do justice to the slave” (Thoreau 841). We can find examples of this in today’s society. There are many instances where people or other entities today are concerned about money more than humanity. We see this in the news when politicians are caught making underhanded deals in private, or have displayed ethically questionable behavior. We also see this when companies are caught stealing technology from their competitor. The latest example of this is where Samsung was fined one billion dollars for stealing technology from Apple (Apple). People today will walk all over someone’s rights for their gain, just as it was in Thoreau’s time when people made African’s their slaves for personal gain.
It is important that this work became a part of the American Literary Canon since it raises issues that are still relevant today. It brings up the idea of political activism that is still just important now in present time and shows the importance of challenging an unjust government or unjust system. There will always be injustice and hopefully there will be those that stand up to those injustices. This may mean, as Thoreau says, being the friction in the machine (840).
In conclusion, one will find this work should be included in the American literary canon and a part of this class. This work reflects the cultural and political values of the time it was written. It also challenges the dominant ideology of the time. It also did not coincide with the popular view. This work challenges a person’s political and ideological views of today.
** Beginning of what I need from you.
Peer Response Grading Criteria:
- The response must be a minimum of 300 words. Less than 300 words will result in an automatic deduction of at least 10 points.
- Responses must be directed to a different student each week until all students are selected. Then begin selecting students again. This will ensure all students are responded to equally throughout the course.
- Responses are designed to foster thought and interaction among classmates--think of this as a serious but friendly and respectful conversation with a classmate. Analyze, reflect on, and respond to the perspectives and insights of a classmate's paper. What do you think of the presented perspective? What are its strong points? Are there issues, positions, or examples in the presented argument that need to be thought through more fully?