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Symbolism Of The Loon In Thoreau’s Walden

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Careful, observant, attentive, and partial to the security offered by solitude, the loon selects some lonely location on the borders of the lake far from the existence of men. Thoreau, in Walden, pursues the loon because it represents what Thoreau is himself searching for””the ability to be at home in two worlds, but also separate from both of them. To be able to reach a unity with nature and likewise successfully separate himself from society. However, he can’t catch the loon because this objective is impossible to achieve.

Thoreau points out how extraordinary the bird is as he watches it dive underwater, yet he observes that the Loon seems to be as content underwater as on the surface: “How surprised must the fishes be to see this ungainly visitor from another sphere speeding his way amid their schools! Yet he appeared to know his course as surely underwater as on the surface, and swam much faster there.” Similarly, Thoreau has arrived at Walden, a strange visitor from another sphere. The loon can be compared to Thoreau’s own quest for complete integration in this foreign, natural world. The loon is “ungainly” and the idea that the loon is a “visitor from another sphere” indicates that the loon is not only somewhat ill at ease, but very much unlike the other fish.

It doesn’t come from a different pond, but from another world entirely. “Yet,” Thoreau says in the next sentence, “he appeared to know his course as surely under water as on the surface, and swam much faster there.” The loon is a stranger who, unlike most strangers, knows “surely” where he needs to go and how to get there. Athough Thoreau is as surprised as the fish are by the loon’s seemingly contradictory nature, his surprise mirrors his own feeling of being an awkward stranger, who, unlike the loon, does not feel at home in a foreign environment.

Not only this, but Thoreau sees that the loon is an individualist in the truest sense of the word. With its ability to betray his presence with his absurd laugh, “I concluded that he laughed in derision of my efforts, confident of his own resources.” This type of confidence is in tune with the transcendentalist credo of individualism and the Loon then, although it has a seemingly contradictory nature, is able to retain a sense individuality. Tthe loon possesses the perfection that incorporates both animal and spiritual components in its character and the perfection which Thorreau himself hopes to attain. He recommends that all men strive to nurture the naturally untamed, as well as cultivated sides of their lives, like the loon. In the same way, Thoreau notices the once domesticated cats that roam in the wild, and this is the reason he is at Walden. His intentions in staying at Walden consist of self-realization and self-fulfillment and the loon represents an idea in keeping with transendental views of individualism.

Emerson’s idea that “the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude” and so the loon, indeed is a symbolic manifestation of this principle of the Emersonian credo, “trust thyself” and an emblem of Thoreau’s own ideal of nonconformist independence in a world which he has seemingly invaded. His ideal contains a similar duality to that which is present in the depiction of the loon, but Thoreau’s ideal can only be attained through human unity with nature, and every chapter of Walden is focused in some respect, on this idea. Although each man must search for his own path, the search must take place within himself and through nature. And although Walden pond is an attempt to break away from the lives of despair that he saw most people lead, he is still a stranger in this natural world.

Thoreau then, was able to understand the dual nature of the loon which existed simultaneously within himself, and he was also able to grasp the human predicament of living with that dual nature, both living as a natural species and as a member of human society, of being determined by both nature and culture.

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