Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts in English and Writing Studies



First Reader/Committee Chair

Luck, Chad


This essay looks at Thoreau’s Walden through the lens of the motif of the Arabic arabesque. It first considers the arabesque in a playful paradigm, that interrupts, crosses, and breaks boundaries through a Derridean parergon. However, this event results in an overturning of the binary that had, for centuries, deemed merely the center to hold the highest of importance. Art historian Cordula Grewe utilizes Derrida’s parergon to analyze the poems of Goethe in the context of an arabesque frame which gives the sensation of sound by imitating the repeatedly playful consonants of the text written in the center. Thus, text, image, and sound are joined using the arabesque. When turning directly to the Arabic arabesque, the motif is an intentional evasion of representation. Though, within this avoidance of representation, new meaning is found in image, text, and sound. Going through multiple iterations of the arabesque, the motif transcends one medium to another. When we finally turn to Thoreau’s rich passage in the chapter entitled “Spring,” the transformation of text into image and sound are ubiquitous. Thoreau’s use of language demonstrates that signifier might not all be arbitrary. As repeated consonants flow into each other, new meaning is created. Ultimately, Thoreau believes that language has a way of connecting words to the empirical world, and it is done—unbeknownst to him—through the innate transformative nature of the arabesque. Thinking in the manner of this transformative arabesque, earlier restrictions of form and meaning in language can find new meaning, thus freeing us from otherwise assumed constraints.