Sunday, October 19, 2014

Thoreau's Walking and The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry

This is my second year I'm teaching American literature to high school sophomores and juniors at a homeschool co-op in Atlanta. We started with Puritan poetry and moved into Transcendentalism, focused on Emerson and Thoreau. Instead of having them read "Walden," to cover Thoreau I chose another essay to read and discuss in class: "Walking."

On the day of our class discussion we took a walk through the community garden outside the community center where our classes are held and had a pretty good discussion about how to enjoy solitude in nature amidst the urban sprawl of Metro Atlanta. 

At the same time the book I was reading for fun was The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce. I didn't choose to read the two at the same time on purpose but I liked that it happened that way.

In Joyce's book, Harold Fry is a retired man living in a small town in the southwest corner of England. He and his wife are going through a bit of a tough time in their marriage and Harold is searching for new purpose for his life. Then, a postcard arrives from a former coworker from two decades before. Queenie is in her final days of a battle with cancer and writes Harold to tell him goodbye. Harold struggles to write her back an adequate letter, dashes something off and leaves the house to go mail it. Except he doesn't mail it. He decides to hand-deliver the letter 600 miles away and starts walking.

On his journey Harold meets memorable characters who want to share in the journey with him, receives the support he desires from his wife who's still waiting for him back at home and sorts out things from his past that have been bothering him.

It tied in nicely with Thoreau's ideas that walking to experience nature is how you sort through the tough things in life and figure out how to live your life as an individual. 

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