Mary Riedy

Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Award Date


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




Herman Melville and Henry David Thoreau are two of the most original American authors who appeared during the first half of the nineteenth century. Although the writings of both Melville and Thoreau have been examined extensively in scholarship, little has been done in the way of attempting a comparison of their work. In fact, Melville and Thoreau was an avowed member of the Transcendentalist movement, which Melville openly opposed.1 There are, indeed, many dissimilarities between the two writers. Thoreau belonged to the Concord group of authors, while Melville did not. Melville was primarily a novelist while Thoreau’s prose works were essays. In addition, the theme of Melville’s major works concerned with the problem of the existence of evil in the universe; Thoreau, as a Trancendentalist, frequently dealt with the underlying relationship between man and nature. Thoreau was more optimistic than was Melville; some of the latter’s works are darkly pessimistic. Despite the evident differences between Melville and Thoreau, there are certain similarities which lend validity to an attempted comparison of their works. Melville and Thoreau were contemporaries, neither man was “successful” in the usual sense of the word, and they were both critical of America society of the time. It is with regard to social criticism that at least one significant comparison can be drawn between the two men.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Thoreau, Henry David, 1817-1862. Walden
Melville, Herman, 1819-1891. Typee
Social problems




South Dakota State University