English II Honors
27 January 2011
King and Thoreau Comparison Essay
Two Transcendentalists, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Henry David Thoreau, believe in the pursuit of perfectibility and self purification. In King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” from Why We Can’t Wait, he shows that he feels people must discover themselves before they may take direct action. Like King, in Thoreau’s “Resistance to Civil Government” he shows that he feels people must find their purpose in life. In order to find their purpose in life they must simplify. Although King and Thoreau are from two completely different times, they share several ideas about government and society, such as dominance of the majority over the minority, stumbling blocks in society, and the differences between just and unjust laws and their consequences.
Both King and Thoreau believe that in government and society, majorities and minorities pose controversy. As king says, “even though Negros constitutes a majority of the population, not a single Negro is registered [to vote]” (King 95). By this, King means that even though the majority is larger they don’t always get all the respect. Majority rules over minority in King’s eyes; Minorities are often taken advantage of. Like King, Thoreau also feels that majorities rule. Majorities are physically stronger and larger but not necessarily always right. A government based on majority cannot be based on justice. Thoreau questions, “can there not be a government in which majorities don’t virtually decide right and wrong, but conscience” (Thoreau 250). Thoreau is trying to say that government should be based on a person’s conscience; he believes people’s consciences are naturally good and just. Overall, both King and Thoreau see and know majorities rule but that it’s not always the right thing or the best thing.
Not only do King and Thoreau acknowledge problems with majorities, but they also acknowledge stumbling blocks in...