Thoreau(ly) No Better Nor Worse

Lojek, Helen. 1994. “Thoreau’s Bog People.” The New England Quarterly 279-297.

Lojek’s article focuses on Henry David Thoreau’s writings about the Irish as a way of examining the common stereotypes of the time. Throughout many of his books, letters, and other writing, Thoreau describes Irish people and characters as dirty, superstitious, rowdy, drunkards, poverty stricken, and firmly lower class. These descriptors, Lojek says, are on par with how the general population viewed the Irish immigrants. One thing of note is that Thoreau rarely disparages the Irish for being Catholic, despite the strong anti- Irish Catholic sentiment that was common throughout New England at the time. Lojek also describes how Thoreau’s most frequent mentions of the Irish occur around and before 1850, when Irish immigration was at it’s height, but as it begins to taper off, and the Irish become more accepted, Thoreau becomes more sympathetic towards the Irish (specifically the way they are exploited and earn very low wages), and calls them hardworking. Lojek concludes that Thoreau’s writing was no more accepting or racist than the common attitude given the time period. Lojek’s writing is clear, concise, and could be easily read. This article is useful for examining the common attitudes (and their shifts) towards the Irish immigrants, and it also provides several key figures and dates for Irish immigration.

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