Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


College of Humanities and Social Sciences



Thesis Sponsor/Dissertation Chair/Project Chair

Monika Elbert

Committee Member

Tom Benedikktson

Committee Member

Jonathan Greenberg


Henry David Thoreau is often perceived as a naturalist, a minimalist, and an anti-capitalist. However, more in-depth readings of Walden reveal numerous fundamental similarities between Transcendentalism and Capitalism. This thesis argues that Henry David Thoreau did in fact advocate a capitalist agenda not merely through his texts, but his lifestyle as well.

Much of Thoreau scholarship places an emphasis on several fundamental points including individualism, the right to ownership, support of the abolitionist movement, frugality, and Thoreau's experience as an inventor and engineer. By examining these values and exploring the foundation of Capitalism through readings of Adam Smith's A Wealth o f Nations, it becomes clear that Henry David Thoreau perpetuated capitalist ideologies. Despite a constant yearning for simplicity, Thoreau was a self-interested entrepreneur who wrote Walden as a guide to economic and spiritual success. Thoreau wrote about a vast array of topics that taught his readers to capitalize on the importance of labor, value, and accomplishment. Through the exploration of these values, juxtaposed by the fundamentals of Capitalism, it becomes clear that much of the Transcendentalist movement was motivated by similar philosophies as Capitalism. This thesis makes that argument by addressing blatant misinterpretations about Capitalism, and comparing the two philosophies side by side.

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