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How Easy it is To Lose Our Way in the Woods at Night

Thoreau writes toward the end of “The Village” (1854) about how easy it is to lose our way in the woods at night or in a snowstorm. He seems to think this can be a good thing for us to experience: . . . not till we are completely lost . . . do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of nature. Every man has to learn the points of the compass again as often as he awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction. Not till we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations. (3) I want you to write a paper about this passage. Use your own life experience and learning to explicate, explain, clarify what you think Thoreau means and what you think about it. Quote or summarize other passages in “The Village” that help illustrate what you understand Thoreau’s point to be. Begin, if you like, with your own experience and observations. Have you ever realized or learned something valuable by “losing your way,” by straying from the known paths of your family or your friends or the larger society? Is there something to be said for living outside the box—as Thoreau lived outside the boundaries and norms of his society? What have you learned in your life about the value and / or the danger of failing or refusing to follow the standards, norms, rules and rituals and traditional ways? [You can reverse this, if you prefer, and write about the value an / or danger of obeying the rules, doing what is expected of you, conforming to what others think is normal or proper.] You may want to refer to another primary text we have read so far to help make your point. Does Langston Hughes feel lost in his English B class? Does he conform to the expectations of his “instructor”? Is the attitude he brings to the classroom constructive or problematic? What does Gwendolyn Brooks express about the kids who think thy are cool for dropping out of school and straying from the expected path? Or how about Oliver Sacks? Is he writing about the danger of losing your way as he acknowledges the value of the Sabbath tradition he had abandoned for so many years? You may want to include information you learned about Thoreau’s life or his theory of Civil Disobedience and its influence. Or perhaps you want to relate his ideas to our current crisis. Doesn’t our safety depend on the degree to which we, and everybody else, can follow the rules and engage in social distancing? Has our entire society lost its way? Do you think something good may come out of that? A lot of questions! Focus on explaining what you think Thoreau might have been getting at when he wrote that it is a “valuable experience . . . to be lost” (3). How has your personal along with your intellectual experience (your reading and research) clarified Thoreau’s ideas for you?

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