Publication Date

Fall 12-4-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English (MA)



Committee Chair

Jonathan W. Murphy

Committee Member

Teresa Y. Scott

Committee Member

Jack C. Byham

Committee Member

Nathaniel R. Racine


This thesis explores the uncivil disobedience evident in some of Henry D. Thoreau’s work, which is often regarded as the birth and foundation of what is today known as “civil disobedience.” Using the nature of Thoreau’s subtle language and his philosophy of action from principle in his writings, including “Resistance to Civil Government” (1849), Walden (1854), “Life Without Principle” (1863), “A Plea for Captain John Brown" (1859), and some of his real life actions, this thesis will examine the antagonistic and, perhaps, uncivil nature of Thoreau’s so-called “civil disobedience.” This thesis will also incorporate Sophocles’ play Antigone (441 BBC), Candice Delmas’ A Duty to Resist: When Disobedience Should be Uncivil (2018), and Larry J. Reynolds’ Righteous Violence: Revolution, Slavery, and the American Renaissance (2011) to better understand Antigone’s and Thoreau’s uncivil disobedience against a deeply unjust state and a civilized society controlled by self-interest and avarice. All of this will culminate in Thoreau’s ardent defense and exoneration of radical abolitionist, militant, and man of uncivil disobedience: John Brown. This thesis aims to describe the ways in which Thoreau uncivilly challenged a rapidly industrializing nineteenth-century America, where business and materialism dominated individuals’ daily lives and a corrupt and unprincipled government permitted the enslavement and oppression of an entire portion of the American population.