Henry David Thoreau was a transcendentalist writer during the 1800s. While Muhammad Ali was an Islamic boxer born in 19 42 and is still living today. One would think that these two would have beliefs and proceedings that completely contradict each other. However, even though Henry David Thoreau and Muhammad Ali have similar beliefs, their approaches towards civil disobedience couldn’t be more different. Thoreau seemed to be a man who cared only for himself and did whatever he wanted whenever and wherever. This was obvious in his strong “individualism” shown though how little he cared for meeting “external expectations” (Wilson 151).
Thoreau’s good friend, Ralph Waldo Emerson, once said that he thinks “the severity of his ideal interfered to deprive him of healthy sufficiency of human society” (qtd. in Wilson 152). This showed how Thoreau cared more for his own beliefs and values than anything else. He also showed how little he cared what society thought when he moved into a small cabin for two years, two months, and two days and isolated himself to experiment with aspects of his life (“Henry David Thoreau” 1). Thoreau’s dealings with civil disobedience were very peaceful, which may be the reason why he was claimed as an influence by both Martin Luther King Jr. nd Mahatma Gandhi. The main action Thoreau used as to display his civil disobedience was the one thing he was exceptionally good at, writing. Thoreau wrote a few essays and letters on his views of numerous aspects. In essence, the essays allowed Thoreau to share what he thought with a wide variety of people. In one instance he wrote a letter to William Garrison’s The Liberator [an abolitionist newspaper during the 1800s] defending the right of Wendell Phillip’s right to speak in the Concord Lyceum [Phillip was denied the right to speak because of his antislavery position] (Wilson 132).
Another act by Thoreau that was still peaceful but not as silent was when he spent a night in jail for refusing to pay the poll tax. Thoreau had withheld the tax to protest slavery and an “imperialistic war with Mexico” (“Henry David Thoreau” 1). This showed that Thoreau was not going to let any threat or other views get in the way of his beliefs. Muhammad Ali went through dramatic changes in his beliefs and values because of the fact he converted suddenly converted to Islam. When Ali met Malcolm x and Captain Sam he was greatly influenced by them and was attracted to
Islam. Later in 1964 Ali announced his acceptance of Islam and changed his name from Marcellus clay Jr. to Muhammad Ali. This conversion to Islam and change of name showed how Ali cared more for his own values and beliefs (Parekh). This belief is shown because of the fact that if Ali cared about what others would think he would have kept his change in faith private. Ali also made sure he always stood up for what he believed and didn’t twist to the will of others. He was once questioned on his conversion to Islam and said “a rooster crows only when he sees the light.
Put him in the dark and he’ll never crow. I’ve seen the light and now I’m crowing” (qtd. in marqusee). This showed that no matter what people said or tried to do Ali would never change his beliefs because someone else wanted him to. Ali’s actions towards civil disobedience were just as strong as his beliefs if not stronger. One example of Ali’s actions was when he threw his Olympic gold medal into the Ohio River because his victory in the Olympics angered some “whites” ending with Ali fighting these “whites” (Parekh). This action shows Ali’s actions can be an influence of his emotions.
A great action of Ali that demonstrates how he stands up for his beliefs was when he refused to serve in the Vietnam, despite the fact he faced imprisonment and may have been forced to pay masses in fines(Marqusee). These actions only show how committed Ali is to his beliefs. Thoreau and Ali evidently have many similarities in their beliefs. One would be they both strongly believe in standing up for what you believe in and not bending to the will of others. This is shown through Ali’s defense in his Islamic belief and Thoreau’s strong individualism. Another similarity between the two would be their beliefs in civil disobedience.
This would be a similarity because neither Ali nor Thoreau believed in, or wanted to use violence in their protest. This is because of Ali’s Islamic belief [people of Islamic faith do not believe in violence] and simply because Thoreau couldn’t be more nonchalant about what people thought of him. The difference between the two comes in the way their protests were carried out. Thoreau remained under the radar merely writing about what he felt and believed in. While Ali, on the other hand, made all his actions and views public and wanted everyone to know what he had to say the moment he said it.
Thus, Henry David Thoreau and Muhammad Ali are obviously two completely different people born and raised in two completely different time periods. Meaning the two would have obvious differences. The one major difference that is immediately obvious is the difference in their approaches towards making themselves heard. However this does not mean the two have nothing in common. They both believe in standing up for what you believe in no matter what. They also both believed in making an effort to make what you believe a reality, such as Thoreau when he protested the poll tax.