Close Reading American Literature

“…general name of Commodity…”

Under the general name of Commodity, I rank all those advantages which our senses owe to nature. This, of course, is a benefit which is temporary and mediate, not ultimate, like its service to the soul. Yet although low, it is perfect in its kind, and is the only use of nature which all men apprehend. The misery of man appears like childish petulance, when we explore the steady and prodigal provision that has been made for his support and delight on this green ball which floats him through the heavens. What angels invented these splendid ornaments, these rich conveniences, this ocean of air above, this ocean of water beneath, this firmament of earth between? this zodiac of lights, this tent of dropping clouds, this striped coat of climates, this fourfold year? Beasts, fire, water, stones, and corn serve him. The field is at once his floor, his work-yard, his play-ground, his garden, and his bed.

This passage comes from Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature. The second chapter entitled “Commodity” discusses how we view nature as a fickle thing in our lives although it is solely what give us life. It just so happens that this passage contains my favorite quote: “The misery of man appears like childish petulance…heavens.” This segment I intend to use in my final paper, which combines Emerson’s Nature and a separate essay called “Experience” with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden in an attempt to understand their two views about the disillusionment with society and how lives can be taken for granted. This quote, I believe, perfectly goes along with this idea.

In terms of this passage, my original reading grasped that this was talking about the value of nature to our senses and how, while we don’t have full use of our senses forever, for a sizable amount of time that we spend on earth they bring us many pleasures. This is a gift that brings us closer to not only “God”, if you aren’t religious, but a higher purpose. We tend to only see the bad in nature and are not grateful for the good. In this way, we are doing our lives a great disservice by acting unappreciatively “with childish petulance”; a phrase I tend to view as a toddler throwing a tantrum. Our day to day inconveniences seem silly in a grander plan for the universe. We are honored with the gift of being chosen to exist “on this green ball”—describing the Earth—“which floats him through the heavens”—or the universe if you aren’t taking such a religious approach. The creation we set our lives upon was a 1 in a million-existence made from “steady and prodigal provision”.

My interpretation of this finds the bridge between identity and environment. For obvious reasons this passage consists of understanding our senses and nature. We could not live without them so why shouldn’t we make a return to nature and find it within
ourselves? However, a more complex argument could be made

A wee ball of Earth

that this passage from “Commodity” shows us, the reader, how we should value our existence. We are created perfectly imperfect on a perfect “green ball” with all the necessities we need to survive. Does this not make our value greater? Are we not a part of nature created and returned back to dust?

Returning to my final paper which I am titling: “Emerson’s “Experience” and Thoreau’s Walden: A Case for Disillusionment in Society”, my argument will be backed up with secondary sources such as “Neither Here nor There: On Grief and Absence in Emerson’s “Experience””, Dark Thoreau by Richard Bridgman (which is in our Dropbox), and “‘A Path to Life’ or ‘A Way of Life’: The Contrasting Approaches of Emerson and Thoreau to the Natural World” by Gillian Mitchell.

Picture Source:


3 thoughts on ““…general name of Commodity…”

  1. The picture of the wee ball of Earth is cute. I like how you are doing your paper on Emerson because that was one of my favorite pieces that we had to read. I also like how you stated “This is a gift that brings us closer to not only “God”, if you aren’t religious, but a higher purpose”- because I know some people that do considered nature to be a gift from God.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. You have an interesting topic. I would love to know more clearly what “disillusionment in society” entails and about what the “bridge between identity and environment” is. Also, I really like (and believe in) your argument that humans should value their existence. You pose a lot of questions after this argument, so I am thinking that perhaps you could turn those questions into statements for your paper. Thank you for linking sources– I will read Mitchell too, to gain more insight for my paper on how Walden helps define American identity. Good luck with the rest of your final paper!

    Liked by 1 person

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