Date of Award


Degree Type

Master's Essay - Restricted

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)




The beauty and effectiveness of a symbol lies in its ability to signify a variety of meanings. In the "Allegash and East Branch" chapter of Thoreau's Maine Woods, the Indian, Joseph Polis, is presented as both a real person and a multi-level symbol. In this chapter, he signifies first, the embodiment of the noble and glorious Indian of the past, and second, the Indian of Thoreau ' s present who has been corrupted by the white man. This chapter is a testimony of Thoreau's literary brilliance. He retaines (sic) the realism of Joseph Polis at the same time that he yokes two contrary symbolic meanings to his person. Thus the historical narrative remains intact at the same time that Thoreau makes his point through humor that the white man has corrupted the Indian. Besides humor, the very contrast of the different symbolic meanings of the Indian illustrate Thoreau's point. It is our task to distinguish the real individual Polis from the symbolic Polis and to distinguish the contrariety within the symbolic Polis. Finally, our task is to determine Thoreau's object in using Polis as a multi-faceted vehicle.