Henry David Thoreau’s Lifelong Indian Play

In: Thoreau in an Age of Crisis
Brent Ranalli
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Brent Ranalli’s “Henry David Thoreau’s Lifelong Indian Play” explores a project Thoreau began in his childhood: cultivating “an interlinked set of personal qualities that he and his nineteenth-century audience recognized as stereotypically ‘Indian’ virtues.” Thoreau continued throughout his life “to imaginatively enter the world of the Indian, or to view the world through ersatz Indian eyes,” Ranalli argues. This quest would eventually coalesce around the virtue ethics at the core of his mature philosophy. In Ranalli’s reading, many of the most important virtues Thoreau sought to cultivate were recognizably “Indian” traits. Ranalli refers to Scottish common-sense philosopher Dugald Stewart and his Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind (1822) to explain the connection between imaginative play (such as Indian role-play) and character education that Thoreau and his nineteenth-century audience implicitly shared.

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