The Whiteness of Walden: Reading Thoreau with Attention to Black Lives

In: Thoreau in an Age of Crisis
Rebecca Kneale Gould
Search for other papers by Rebecca Kneale Gould in
Current site
Google Scholar

Purchase instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):


In “The Whiteness of Walden: Reading Thoreau with Attention to Black Lives,” Rebecca Kneale Gould asks that a stark truth be recognized: namely, that “citizens of the United States live daily with the plain fact that our nation was founded on stolen land and made ‘independent’ by the labor of stolen people.” She further asks whether we should continue reading Thoreau—and how, if we do so, while acknowledging his whiteness and privilege. Gould shares her classroom practice of asking her (primarily white and affluent) students to reflect on their inherent privilege in various natural settings, particularly as they read accounts by contemporary Black authors. By juxtaposing these more recent narratives against some of the more serene passages in Walden, Gould invites readers into the tensions between race, access, and natural landscapes in the United States. She also shares provocative analyses of well-known passages from Thoreau’s corpus that, she argues, must be read while paying heed to Thoreau’s own attention to racial injustice.

  • Collapse
  • Expand